- 6.3–9.8 in
- 18.9–24 in
- 4.3–8.6 oz
- A small owl, slightly larger and considerably bulkier than a European Starling.
- Petit-duc maculé (French)
- Tecolote chillón, Tecolote oriental (Spanish)
- Like most raptors, male Eastern Screech-Owls are smaller than females, and are more agile fliers and hunters. The female doesn’t hunt while on the nest; she and the chicks depend on food brought them by the male. Though the male is smaller, his voice is deeper than the female’s.
- Smaller birds can help you find screech-owls during the day. Listen for a commotion of Blue Jays, chickadees, and titmice—they may be mobbing a screech-owl (or other raptor), swooping around it with noisy calls. This can be enough of a nuisance to make the owl move on, and it alerts other birds to the predator’s presence and teaches younger members of the flock about the danger.
- Screech-owls regurgitate the bones, fur, and feathers of their prey in an oval pellet, usually once or twice a day. The ground beneath habitual owl roosts can be littered with pellets, and you can learn a lot from them about the owl’s diet. However, data from pellets may underestimate the number of soft-bodied animals, like worms and insects, the owl has eaten.
- Nestling screech-owls fight fiercely among themselves for food, and sometimes even kill their smallest sibling. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls, and herons, and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
- Eastern Screech-Owls of the suburbs may fledge more young than their rural counterparts, probably because their predators are scarcer in the suburbs.
- Red and gray individuals occur across the range of the Eastern Screech-Owl, with about one-third of all individuals being red. Rufous owls are more common in the East, with fewer than 15% red at the western edge of the range. No red owls are known from southern Texas, although they occur further north in Texas and further south in Mexico. Intermediate brownish individuals also occur in most populations.
- Eastern Screech-Owl pairs usually are monogamous and remain together for life. Some males, however, will mate with two different females. The second female may evict the first female, lay her own eggs in the nest, and incubate both clutches.
- The Eastern Screech-Owl is known to eat a variety of songbirds, including the European Starling. Despite this fact, the starling regularly displaces the owl from nesting sites and takes over the hole to raise its own brood.
- The oldest recorded Eastern Screech-Owl was at least 14 years, 6 months old when it was found in Ontario in 1968, the same province where it had been banded in 1955.
Almost any habitat with sufficient tree cover will do for this cosmopolitan owl. Tree cavities or nest boxes are essential, and fairly open understories are preferred, but Eastern Screech-Owls live and breed successfully in farmland, suburban landscapes, and city parks. On the Great Plains, at the westernmost edge of its range, Eastern Screech-Owls occur in the uneven traces of wooded land along streams and rivers. Screech-owls cannot survive if all trees are removed, but the species readily recolonizes once trees are replanted, especially if nest boxes are also provided.
Eastern Screech-Owls eat most kinds of small animals, including birds and mammals as well as surprisingly large numbers of invertebrates, including earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and lizards. They eat many kinds of mammals, including rats, mice, squirrels, moles, and rabbits. Small birds taken as prey include flycatchers, swallows, thrushes, waxwings, and finches, as well as larger species such as jays, grouse, doves, shorebirds, and woodpeckers. This owl is agile enough to occasionally prey on bats, and can rarely even be cannibalistic. When prey is plentiful, Eastern Screech-Owls cache extra food in tree holes for as long as four days.
- Clutch Size
- 2–6 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1 broods
- Egg Length
- 1.3–1.4 in
- Egg Width
- 1.1–1.2 in
- Incubation Period
- 27–34 days
- Nestling Period
- 26–30 days
- Egg Description
- Condition at Hatching
- covered in white down; eyes closed.
Eastern Screech-Owls build no nest. The female lays her eggs on whatever debris is at the bottom of her nesting cavity, be it wood-chips, twigs, or the cast-off feathers and droppings from a previous year’s nest. Settling in, she makes a body-shaped depression where her eggs lie.
Eastern Screech-Owls nest in holes and cavities, but never dig a cavity themselves. Thus, they depend on tree holes opened or enlarged by woodpeckers, fungus, rot, or squirrels. They often occupy abandoned woodpecker nest holes. Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept nest boxes, including those built for Wood Ducks or Purple Martins, and sometimes nest in wood piles, mailboxes, or crates left on the ground.
Eastern Screech-Owls are chiefly active at night, though they often hunt at dawn or dusk, and occasionally in daylight. These versatile hunters sit and wait in the trees for prey to pass below. They tend to pounce from perches six to ten feet off the ground, occasionally snatching an insect or bat on the wing or hitting shallow water talons-first to snag fish or tadpoles. Most flights are short (less than 75 feet or so). When traveling between perches, these owls often drop, fly straight, then rise again, in a characteristic U-shaped pattern. Eastern Screech-Owls form stable matches, usually one male with one female but occasionally one male with two females. Males defend small territories containing several cavity roost spots. When nesting, the female stays in the nest hole except for brief dawn and dusk excursions. She and the nestlings are fed by her mate, though it is the female who tears the prey into small bits for the babies. At fledging, the young first hop to the ground or nearby branches, using feet and fluttering wings to climb laboriously back to safety. Young gain flight and hunting skills slowly; they depend on their parents for food for 8–10 weeks after fledging. Both parents feed the youngsters at this stage, and adults, especially the females, shelter together with the young in communal tree roosts. Gradually, as the young gain skill, they begin to roost and hunt apart from their parents and siblings.
Eastern Screech-Owl numbers are difficult to determine owing to their nocturnal lifestyle. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimate that between 1966 and 2015, numbers increased in Canada, but declined in the U.S. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 900,000 with 95% living in the U.S., 4% in Mexico, and 1% in Canada. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Eastern Screech-Owl is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. This little owl is a generalist, with unfussy eating and nesting habits, and it adjusts well to the presence of humans. In fact, suburban birds often survive better than their rural kin, as suburbs provide more prey, milder climates, and fewer predators. Eastern Screech-Owls need trees to nest in, or, at least, nest boxes and brushy cover, but their small size, territorial tolerance, and broadly varied diet make this owl a successful survivor.
Resident (not migratory).
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.