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
  • adult, Interior Southwest
  • adult, brown  morph, Pacific Northwest
  • adult, gray morph, Southern coastal
  • adult, Interior Southwest
  • juvenile, Interior Southwest
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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

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

Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

Download Our Bird Guide App

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.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Owls

Western Screech-Owl

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds