Eastern Screech Owls: A Comprehensive Guide



Eastern Screech Owls

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The Eastern Screech Owl – with its enigmatic gaze, eerie calls, and nocturnal lifestyle – stands as one of North America’s most intriguing raptors.

Despite their name, their calls are more melodic trills than screeches. Let’s dive deep into the world of these petite, yet formidable predators.

The Eastern Screech Owl Description

  • Size: Small, standing at about 6 to 10 inches in height with a wingspan of 18 to 24 inches.
  • Color Morphs: They come in two primary color morphs: a gray morph and a reddish or rufous morph. Some individuals can be a mix of these morphs or have intermediate coloration.
  • Eyes: Bright yellow eyes set against a slightly “hunched” appearance.
  • Facial Disc: A prominent facial disc with dark borders.
  • Plumage: Features a complex pattern of spots, streaks, and bars that provide excellent camouflage against tree bark.

Eastern Screech Owl Diet

The Eastern Screech Owl has a varied diet, making it an opportunistic predator. Its dietary choices are influenced by seasonal availability, with insects being a primary food source in warmer months and small mammals becoming more crucial during colder months. This adaptability in diet is one of the reasons they thrive in various habitats, including urban and suburban settings.

  1. Insects:
    • A significant portion of their diet, especially during warmer months.
    • They consume beetles, moths, crickets, and other large insects.
  2. Small Mammals:
    • Mice and small rats are typical prey.
    • Other small mammals like shrews and bats might also be consumed.
  3. Birds:
    • They can prey on smaller birds, especially those active during dusk or dawn.
    • Examples include sparrows, finches, and even young nestlings of other bird species.
  4. Reptiles and Amphibians:
    • Frogs, small snakes, and lizards are also part of their diet, though in lesser quantities compared to insects and small mammals.
  5. Invertebrates:
    • Apart from insects, they might consume spiders, worms, and other invertebrates.
  6. Other:
    • Occasionally, they’ve been known to prey on fish or crayfish from shallow waters.
  7. Hunting Technique:
    • Eastern Screech Owls are perch-and-pounce hunters, often waiting on a perch and swooping down to capture their prey.
    • Their keen sense of hearing aids in locating prey, even under leaf litter or snow.
  8. Feeding Behavior:
    • These owls usually swallow smaller prey whole. For larger prey items, they tear them apart.
    • Indigestible parts, like bones, fur, and feathers, are later regurgitated as pellets.

Eastern Screech Owl Breeding

Eastern Screech Owls have specific breeding rituals and behaviors, emphasizing mate selection, nest protection, and chick rearing. Their ability to use a variety of nesting sites, including those in suburban and urban areas, makes them adaptable breeders across a range of habitats.

  1. Mating Season:
    • The mating season typically starts in late winter and extends through spring, although the exact timing can vary depending on the region and local conditions.
  2. Courtship:
    • Male Eastern Screech Owls attract females by singing from perches near potential nesting sites.
    • They may also offer food to the female as a courtship gesture.
  3. Nesting Sites:
    • They prefer natural cavities in trees, but they will also readily use man-made nest boxes.
    • Sometimes, they occupy abandoned woodpecker holes or other bird nests.
    • Eastern Screech Owls do not build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs directly on the floor of the cavity.
  4. Egg Laying and Incubation:
    • A female typically lays between 2 to 6 eggs, though the number can vary.
    • The eggs are white and somewhat round.
    • Incubation is mostly done by the female and lasts about 26 to 34 days.
    • During this time, the male provides food for the incubating female.
  5. Chick Rearing:
    • Once hatched, the chicks (or owlets) are altricial, meaning they are helpless and rely entirely on parental care.
    • Both parents take turns feeding the chicks.
    • Owlets leave the nest (fledge) after about 4 to 5 weeks but will still depend on their parents for food and care for several weeks afterward.
  6. Defensive Behavior:
    • During the nesting period, parents can become very defensive.
    • If a potential threat approaches the nest, parents might use distraction tactics, like feigning injury, to lure predators away. They can also become aggressive if the threat persists.
  7. Monogamy:
    • Eastern Screech Owls are generally monogamous, with pairs forming strong bonds that can last multiple breeding seasons.
    • Some pairs may even stay together throughout the year.
  8. Territory:
    • The male establishes and defends a territory, using calls to warn other males away. This territory is not only a nesting site but also a feeding ground.

Eastern Screech Owl Habitat

Eastern Screech Owls primarily occupy woodland areas in the eastern parts of the United States and Canada. They have a preference for deciduous or mixed woodlands, particularly older forests that have suitable nesting cavities.

However, they are not limited to deeply forested areas and can also be found in rural and suburban habitats, parks, and fields. In fact, some studies suggest that they may prefer these more human-centric environments over deeply forested areas.

Eastern Screech Owls have shown great adaptability to different habitats, including urban and suburban landscapes.

The Eastern Screech Owl, known scientifically as Megascops asio, is one of the most widely distributed North American owls. Its range covers North America and northern Mexico. The breeding range extends from Manitoba to New England and west to Colorado and Kansas.

The southernmost portion of the range covers states such as Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and the Gulf States. Additionally, small numbers of Eastern Screech Owls breed in northeastern Mexico. Overall, this owl species has a vast distribution range that spans a large area of North America.

How rare is it to see an Eastern Screech Owl?

Eastern Screech Owls are elusive creatures, known for their ability to blend into their surroundings and remain unseen. However, due to their tendency to nest near humans, they are more commonly sighted than other owl species.

That being said, they are still relatively difficult to spot due to their small size and excellent camouflage. Even if there is an Eastern Screech Owl nesting in your backyard, you would consider yourself lucky to catch a glimpse of one.

Where is the best place to see Eastern Screech Owl?

Eastern Screech Owls are most commonly found in the eastern half of the United States and much of southeastern Canada. If you’re looking for the best place to see them, urban or suburban areas with owl calls are your best bet.

These nocturnal creatures can be spotted at dusk, particularly in dimly lit streets. So, if you find yourself in an area with suitable habitat and owl calls, keep your eyes and ears open for a chance to see an Eastern Screech Owl.

As with most owls, Eastern Screech Owls are strictly nocturnal and only come out at night. Their primary hunting time is during the dark hours. During the summer months, when nights are shorter, they may also hunt at dusk as the sun is setting. However, for the most part, you can expect these owls to be most active in the dead of night.

During the winter months, Eastern Screech Owls remain in their established territories. They do not migrate, even in the furthest north regions of their range. To survive the winter, they seek shelter in tree hollows and natural cavities. These provide them with protection from the elements and help them conserve energy during the colder months.

Adult Eastern Screech Owls are solitary outside of the breeding season. They establish pair bonds that are long-lasting and typically last throughout their lives. However, during the breeding season and when raising young, Eastern Screech Owls may be seen in pairs. Juveniles, on the other hand, may be spotted in small groups. Overall, Eastern Screech Owls have a preference for solitary living outside of the breeding season.

Known for their trilling calls, the Eastern Screech Owls are truly unique. Broaden your owl knowledge by diving into the world of Short-Eared Owls and the rare Scops Owl. The majestic Great Horned Owl also offers a contrast to this petite owl. To get an overarching understanding of these magnificent raptors, our Guide to Owls is a perfect start.

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