Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Western Screech-Owl

Megascops kennicottii

Inconspicuous but locally very common is this little owl. In the varied terrain of the west, its haunts range from coastal forests in southeastern Alaska to cactus groves in the Arizona desert, and it is often found in suburban areas. Until the 1980s, Western and Eastern screech-owls were considered to belong to the same species because they look so similar; however, their voices differ, and they apparently recognize their own kind by sound.
Conservation status Widespread and common, but has declined in some areas because of habitat loss.
Family Owls
Habitat Wooded canyons, desert mesquites, farm groves, shade trees. Found in a wide variety of wooded or semi-open habitats, including forest edge, wooded suburbs, canyons, mesquite groves and saguaros in the desert, streamside groves in arid country. Mostly in deciduous or mixed woods. Avoids extreme desert situations and higher elevations in mountains.
Inconspicuous but locally very common is this little owl. In the varied terrain of the west, its haunts range from coastal forests in southeastern Alaska to cactus groves in the Arizona desert, and it is often found in suburban areas. Until the 1980s, Western and Eastern screech-owls were considered to belong to the same species because they look so similar; however, their voices differ, and they apparently recognize their own kind by sound.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages at dusk and at night. Hunts mostly by watching from a perch and then swooping down to take prey from the ground or from foliage. Also catches flying insects in the air. Can locate prey by sound as well as by sight.


Eggs

2-5, sometimes 6. White. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, averages about 26 days. Male brings food to female during incubation. Young: Both parents bring food for young. If intruders (including humans) come too close to nest, adults may attack or may put on distraction display. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are cared for by parents for some time thereafter.


Young

Both parents bring food for young. If intruders (including humans) come too close to nest, adults may attack or may put on distraction display. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are cared for by parents for some time thereafter.

Diet

Mostly small mammals and large insects. Diet varies with habitat and region. Includes many beetles, moths, other insects, as well as spiders, scorpions, centipedes; also many small mammals, such as mice, voles, pocket gophers. Also eats small birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, fish.


Nesting

Courtship displays of male while perched include bowing, clicking bill. Male brings food to female. Mated pairs preen each other's feathers, call in duet. Nest site is in cavity in tree, pole, or giant cactus, typically in old woodpecker hole but also in natural hollows in trees. May also use old magpie nests. Sites usually 5-35' above ground.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
An accelerating "bouncing ball" series of 6-8 low whistles, often dropping in pitch toward the end. Also a quick series on 1 pitch.