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Western Screech-Owl


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


Series of short whistled hoots, more closely spaced at end of series.


  • Agitated bark and bill clap
  • Te-te-do call progressing into agitated double trill
  • Female begging whinny
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Heard at dusk and into the night, the Western Screech-Owl's most distinctive vocalization is its "bouncing ball" call: a series of 5–9 short, whistled hoots, speeding up ping-pong-ball fashion toward the end. The male uses this for territorial and courtship advertising, often calling from a nest tree or a prospective nest site. In duets sung by a mating pair, the female's notes are interspersed with the male's—her voice higher than her mate's, despite her larger size. To stay in contact, pairs of screech-owls use a short "double trill" call; when agitated, they make a barking sound. Adult females whinny in response to the male's bouncing ball call, and to solicit feeding and copulation.

Other Sounds

Western Screech-Owls snap their bills when approached closely by a potential predator such as a crow, squirrel, or human. Nestlings begin doing this when they are about 8 days old.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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.

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