Photo: C.W. Moynihan/Audubon Photography Awards

Whiskered Screech-Owl

Megascops trichopsis

In mountains near the Mexican border, this little owl is common in the oak woodlands. Although its voice is distinctive, it looks very much like the Western Screech-Owl, which is common in the same general region. The Whiskered is a little smaller and lives mostly at higher elevations. Western and Whiskered screech-owls are often found side by side in the lower parts of canyons in Arizona, where the desert gives way to oaks and sycamores.
Conservation status Locally common, and numbers apparently stable, in limited range in United States.
Family Owls
Habitat Canyons, pine-oak woods, oaks, sycamores. Favors habitat with relatively dense, broad-leaved oaks, both in pure stands and in mixed woodland with pines, generally above 5000'. In Arizona canyons, often common in groves of sycamores next to oak woodland.
In mountains near the Mexican border, this little owl is common in the oak woodlands. Although its voice is distinctive, it looks very much like the Western Screech-Owl, which is common in the same general region. The Whiskered is a little smaller and lives mostly at higher elevations. Western and Whiskered screech-owls are often found side by side in the lower parts of canyons in Arizona, where the desert gives way to oaks and sycamores.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Hunts at dusk and through the night. Hunts by watching from a perch and then making short flights out to take prey from foliage or from the ground; may fly back and forth or hover among vegetation to take insects. Captures most prey with feet.


Eggs

3, sometimes 4. White. Incubation is probably mostly by female, incubation period not well known. Young: Both parents probably bring food for young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known. Parents may feed young for some time after they leave nest.


Young

Both parents probably bring food for young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known. Parents may feed young for some time after they leave nest.

Diet

Mostly large insects. Eats many caterpillars, beetles, moths, crickets, katydids, and other insects; also other arthropods, including centipedes and scorpions. Sometimes eats small rodents.


Nesting

Breeding behavior is not well known. Males defend breeding territory by singing at night, and may vigorously attack intruding males. Members of mated pairs call in duet, also nibble at each other's bills and preen each other's feathers. Nest site is in cavity in tree such as oak or sycamore, either an abandoned woodpecker hole or a natural hollow; nest sites often 10-30' above ground.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident.

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Migration

Permanent resident.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of low whistles in a distinctive Morse code-like pattern: hoo-hoo hooo hoo, hoo-hoo hooo hoo, and so on. Also a rapid hoohoohoohoo.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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