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Owls: Strigidae

Eastern Screech-owl (otus Asio): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Eastern screech-owls have ear tufts but often fold them flat, so they appear to have smooth, rounded heads. Individuals may be gray or rufous (red) in color. Rufous owls are more common in warm and moist climates such as the southern Appalachians. Gray owls are more common in northern regions and dry southern areas such as Texas. Research suggests gray birds survive better in heavy snow and cold temperatures.

Eastern screech-owl parents continue to feed their young for eight to ten weeks after the owlets fledge, grow feathers necessary for flying. (Joe McDonald/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Individuals range in length from 6.3 to 9.8 inches (16 to 25 centimeters). Females are slightly larger than males, and owls from northern regions tend to be larger than individuals in southern regions.

Geographic range: Eastern screech-owls are found throughout the eastern half of the United States and north into southern Canada.

Habitat: Screech-owls occupy a variety of habitats, from young to mature forests, and from lowlands and river valleys to mountain slopes. They also live alongside humans in suburbs and cities.

Diet: These small owls eat small prey, mostly invertebrates including insects, earthworms, and crayfish. Screech-owls in northern climates are more likely to take small mammals and songbirds.

Behavior and reproduction: The primary call is a distinctive, horse-like whinny that increases in pitch, then falls off gradually, ending with a trembling sound. When they are courting, males and females sing loud trilled duets.

Screech-owls usually nest in abandoned woodpecker holes. The female may lay two to six eggs. She incubates them for twenty-six to thirty-four days while the male brings food. The owlets fledge (grow feathers necessary for flying) twenty-five to twenty-seven days after hatching. Their parents continue to feed them for another eight to ten weeks.

Eastern screech-owls and people: Eastern screech-owls do well in suburban areas with mature trees and will use wooden nest boxes.

Conservation status: Populations tend to cycle naturally from high to low and back. Temporary declines are sometimes misinterpreted as evidence the species is in trouble. However, the IUCN does not consider this species to be threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsOwls: Strigidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Owls And People, Eastern Screech-owl (otus Asio): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS