Bird GuideOwlsWestern Screech-Owl

At a Glance

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.
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Permanent resident throughout its range.


7-10" (18-25 cm). Gray (sometimes brown in northwest). Much like Eastern Screech-Owl; where they meet (western plains), base of bill yellow-green on Eastern, blackish on Western. Best known by sound.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

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.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Hoot, Scream, Trill


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.



2-5, sometimes 6. White. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, averages about 26 days. Male brings food to female during incubation.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Widespread and common, but has declined in some areas because of habitat loss.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Western Screech-Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Western Screech-Owl

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.