Eastern and Western Screech-Owl’s ranges do not overlap, so almost all the time they can be safely identified based on location. The two species look extremely similar, but fortunately their vocalizations are quite different. Eastern Screech-Owl gives a whistled trill and Western a series of bouncing notes that accelerate toward the end of the song. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is slightly smaller than Eastern Screech-Owl and lacks ear tufts, so its head is always rounded. Northern Saw-whet Owl has heavy brown streaks on a white breast, with less intricate patterning than screech-owls have. Juvenile Saw-whets have a dark brown head and back, and are oddly buffy-orange on their breast and belly.
The “McCall’s” Eastern Screech-Owl (Asio otus mccallii), inhabits south-central Texas and parts of northern Mexico. It may prove to be a separate species, as it is always gray and never gives the “whinny” call. The two common color morphs, gray and rufous, represent individual variation and don’t vary consistently by region or subspecies.
Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept nesting boxes, so the placement of such boxes may attract them to your yard. Our NestWatch project has information about nest boxes and instructions on how to build one the right size for a screech-owl. These owls also use birdbaths and will visit them to drink and bathe.
Find This Bird
Listen in wooded areas at night for the trills and whinnies of this vocal owl. Your best chance of seeing an Eastern Screech-Owl may be to listen for the excited voices of songbirds mobbing an owl they have found. You can also look closely at tree cavities and nest boxes; especially on cold sunny days, you may see the owl sunning sleepily in the entrance.