Bird GuideOwlsWhiskered Screech-Owl

At a Glance

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.
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Permanent resident.


6 1/2-8" (17-20 cm). Like Western Screech-Owl but smaller, with smaller feet, coarse plumage pattern, yellow-green base of bill. Best known by sound.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

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


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.



3, sometimes 4. White. Incubation is probably mostly by female, incubation period not well known.


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.

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.


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


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Locally common, and numbers apparently stable, in limited range in United States.

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 Whiskered Screech-Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Whiskered 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.

Explore More