Eastern Screech Owl

STATUSLeast Concern


DIETInsects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds

RANGEEastern part of North America from the bottom of Canada to the top of Mexico

HABITATReadily adapt to living near humans, prefer to be located in wooded regions

Eastern Screech Owl

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Program and General Information

In areas where both western and eastern screech owls are found, it is easiest to tell the two apart by sound. Also, the Eastern Screech-Owl is slightly smaller than the Western Screech-owl.

The two most common calls of the eastern screech owl are the even-pitched trill and the descending whinny. Both of these calls can be heard at night as this animal is primarily a nocturnal hunter.

These owls have symmetrical ears, which suggest that they hunt primarily using their vision. They do, however, have excellent hearing as they often capture prey hidden by leaf litter. They hunt by sitting on a tree branch and waiting to see or hear prey.

Common Physical Features

The Eastern screech owl has an average body length of 16-25cm, a wingspan of 48-61cm, and weighs 121-244 grams. As is common with many birds of prey, the females of this species tend to be larger than the males. Eastern screech owls have also been known as Common screech owl, Little Owl, Scritch Owl, Little Horned Owl, Little Grey Owl, and Red Owl.

Eastern screech owls can be found in two distinct color morphs: gray and rufous (a red/brown coloration). Both of these morphs have darker streaking of color covering the body and allow the bird to easily blend in with tree bark in their habitat. Eastern screech owls have feathered tufts on their heads and feathered feet as well. Juveniles of the species closely resemble adults, but have ear tufts that are not fully developed and may also have light and dark barring on the head, mantle, and under parts.

Habitat and Global Range

Due to their ability to easily adjust to many habitat types, the eastern screech owl has a large ecological niche. They can readily adapt to living near humans in urban and suburban areas, although they prefer to be located in wooded regions. Being cavity nesters, they easily accept bird boxes as a nesting site. These small owls can be found all along the eastern part of North America from the bottom of Canada to the top of Mexico. Eastern screech-owls are not migratory birds.


Eastern screech-owls in the wild have a greatly varied diet. They catch and eat most things smaller than them including insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds. These amazing little owls are even agile enough in flight to prey on finches, jays, and doves among other birds. They have also been known to eat the occasional bat, frog, tadpole and lizard. When it comes to mammals, screech-owls frequently consume rats and mice as well as moles and rabbits. If an eastern screech-owl catches more food than it can eat, it may cache excess food in tree cavities to save for other days when hunting isn’t as successful.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Once they’ve reached sexual maturity at about 1 year of age, eastern screech-owls will select a mate and pair bond to that bird. Like many birds of prey, most eastern screech-owls mate for life after successful breeding. This means that if a pair is not successful nesting or raising young, they may switch and re-pair with other birds but once they are successful, pairs tend to stay together. On occasion one male may nest with more than one female in a season. To court a female, the male screech-owl will give a trill call while running up and down branches. Once mated, the female will select a nest location.

Eastern screech-owls do not build nests and thus must find already made nest cavities to occupy. They will use anything from woodpecker holes to nest boxes meant for wood ducks and kestrels. The female will settle into whatever debris is in the bottom of her nest and create a depression in which to lay her eggs. Breeding season occurs at the end of February into early march.

Fun Facts

  • Most hunting is done during the first 4 hours after sunset.
  • Flight feathers have soft edges so air rushing through them doesn’t create sound.
  • Disc feathers around eyes serve as sound collectors. Wide set ear tufts can stand up totally when alert or lay flat against head to help funnel sounds into ear slits which are located on the sides of the head.
  • Regurgitate pellets (castings) of feathers, bones and fur several hours after they’ve eaten. It’s believed that pellet formation and regurgitation are necessary for a bird’s good health.
  • Has strong beak. Eyes are fixed in the socket; can rotate head 270 degrees. Excellent binocular vision, bright yellow iris.

Conservation Messaging

Screech owls like other birds of prey are very important predators. Screech owls usually consume insects and small rodents which humans consider harmful and pests. They are able to eat 25% of their body weight daily thus being beneficial to farmers as pest controllers.

Do not litter: Birds of prey can be seen hunting along highways all over the country which is very dangerous for them, many of them are hit by cars or somehow injured along the roadways. They are attracted the roadways because their prey is attracted to the roadways and their prey (mice, rats, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, smaller birds, etc.) are attracted to the trash along the side of the road. Everyone can make a positive impact by not littering or even volunteering to remove garbage from the roads. Although many people may not consider apple cores or banana peels to be “litter”, it can still attract animals the roadside. Taking it home and disposing of it properly can help a bird of prey near you.



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