Living Bird Magazine
Western Screech-OwlMegascops kennicottii
- ORDER: Strigiformes
- FAMILY: Strigidae
A short series of high toots accelerating through the night announces the presence of a Western Screech-Owl. These compact owls—not much taller than a standard pair of binoculars—hunt in woods and deserts of western North America, where their wide-ranging diet includes everything from worms and crayfish to rats and bats. Found in urban parks and residential areas as well as wilder places, Western Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities, and will readily take to backyard nest boxes.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The best way to encounter a Western Screech-Owl is to use your ears. Listen at night for a string of hollow, high tooting notes with the rhythm of a bouncing ball. They may occur in or near towns, and they are vocal for much of the year, not just the spring and summer. During daytime they are hard to spot, but they may become the targets of small songbirds that form mobbing groups to get the owl to move away. If you hear a commotion made by chickadees, nuthatches, and other small birds, it’s worth taking a careful look for an owl or hawk hidden nearby.
- Autillo Californiano (Spanish)
- Petit-duc des montagnes (French)
Try attracting a breeding pair of screech-owls by putting up a nest box. Make sure the box is in place well before breeding season; attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- Oddly enough, the Western Screech-Owl doesn't really screech; it makes an accelerating series of hollow toots. The “screech” part of its name better suits the closely related Eastern Screech-Owl, whose primary sound is a descending whinny.
- The diminutive Western Screech-Owl is a predator to be reckoned with: it occasionally takes prey bigger than its own body, including cottontail rabbits. At other times they’ve been seen eating bats, insects and earthworms, which they collect from rainy roads and even compost piles.
- Western Screech-Owls sometimes perch at the entrance of their roost holes during the day, but they remain nearly invisible by pressing their head and body feathers against the tree to blend in.
- A pair of captive Western Screech-Owls lived to be 19 years old. The longest lifespan recorded in the wild is at least 13 years: a bird banded in Claremont, California, in 1926 and recovered there in 1939.