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Eastern Screech-Owl

Megascops asio ORDER: STRIGIFORMES FAMILY: STRIGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

If a mysterious trill catches your attention in the night, bear in mind the spooky sound may come from an owl no bigger than a pint glass. Common east of the Rockies in woods, suburbs, and parks, the Eastern Screech-Owl is found wherever trees are, and they’re even willing to nest in backyard nest boxes. These supremely camouflaged birds hide out in nooks and tree crannies through the day, so train your ears and listen for them at night.

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Songs

Both males and females sing. Their most common sounds are an even-pitched trill, often called a “bounce song” or tremolo; and a shrill, descending whinny. The tremolo is used by pairs or families to keep in touch and is 3–6 seconds long. The whinny is 0.5–2 seconds long and is used to defend territories. These two songs may be given one after the other. Mated pairs may sing to each other antiphonally, both day and night.

Calls

Among the Eastern Screech-Owl’s many calls are soft, low hoots; loud, sharp barking calls that indicate alarm or agitation; and, true to their name, screeches—typically given by adults defending nests or fledglings. A three- or four-note chuckle or rattle denotes annoyance, as when a bird is being mobbed.

Other Sounds

Annoyed screech-owls make a clacking sound by snapping their bill mandibles together. Captured birds may hiss as part of a threat display.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept nest boxes; consider putting one up to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site. 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.