Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

You will not see me on exhibit at the Zoo, but I may see you from a perch on one of the zoo trees! These little owls are experts at camouflage and prefer wooded terrain to barren wilderness. They need little nooks for nesting and are the smallest “tufted” owl in the eastern United States.

Description: 

Height is between 6.3 and 9.8 inches with a wingspan between 19 and 24 inches of their rounded wings. They are small, weighing between 4 and 9 ounces. They have a large head and almost no neck and a short square tail. Pointed ear tufts are often raised. There are two color phases, a gray phase and a reddish-brown phase, which allows for camouflage against the bark of trees. Females are slightly larger than males.

Nocturnal, solitary, may be spotted roosting on perches in tree canopies and are often found in residential areas and parks during the day. They are frequently heard calling at night, but despite their name, they don’t truly screech. The Eastern Screech Owl's call is a haunting tremolo with a descending, whinny-like quality. Vocalizations also include rasps, barks, hoots, chuckles, and trilling. In eastern wooded suburbs, this small, owl is often the most common avian predator, emerging from its nest or roost hole at dusk to hawk insects or hunt other small prey. It nests in old woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities and readily uses properly sized and positioned nest boxes. They hunt mainly from perches, occasionally hovering to catch prey. When prey is spotted, the owl dives quickly and seizes it in its talons. The eastern screech owl's sense of hearing is so acute that it can even locate mammals under heavy vegetation or snow.

Habitat: 

Open woodlands, isolated groves, residential shade trees. Nests in the hollows of dead trees.

Range: 

Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, New England, Texas, Mid-Atlantic, Eastern Canada, Southeast, Plains, Western Canada, and Florida.

Diet: 

Insects, small rodents, small birds, frogs, lizards, earthworms and crustaceans.

Life Span: 

8 – 10 years in the wild (due to predation, the mortality rate of young and nestling owls may be as high as 70%), up to 18 years in human care.

Family Life: 

Courtship occurs late January through mid-March. Eggs are laid beginning in early March. The incubation period is between 27 and 34 days with each clutch being between 2 and 6 eggs. Nesting in a tree cavity, either natural or excavated by woodpeckers, and will also use nesting boxes. This bird doesn't actually build a nest; instead, females lay their eggs directly on the feathers and fur left over from previous meals that lines the bottom of its den. The male provides the food while the female incubates the eggs then rears the young. The young remain dependent on parents for another 8 to 10 weeks. Breeding pairs are monogamous and often return to the same nest year after year.

Status: 

Stable. Least Concern.