Wild 2-5 years
Captive 20 years
The eastern screech owl is a small species of owl found in the eastern areas of the North American continent. Their feathers resemble the bark of a tree and provide camouflage.
They hunt for a range of small animals and insects aided by a strong sense of sight and hearing.
Nests are built in a tree cavity. No major work is undertaken to ready the nest and the female deposits her eggs here. Males may have two mates which both deposit their eggs in the nest.
Eastern screech owls rely on the presence of tree hollows and the removal of these has seen a steady decline in their population.
Lear more about these beautiful birds by reading on below.
Across the body the eastern screech owl features gray or reddish brown feathers. These two colorations are not habitat dependent and have even been seen in the same nest. This features a pattern of bands and spots giving much of their body the appearance of tree bark. This adaptation helps them to camouflage.
A morph in parts of the US known as the McCall’s form lacks the red morph and cannot produce the whinnying call. Scientists continue to debate whether these birds represent a different species.
Eastern screech owls have a pair of large, round yellow eyes with a large black pupil. While these stand out at night they are often hard to see during the day. The eyes are fixed in the socket but the eastern screech owl can rotate its head to see 270 degrees around them.
The short, hooked beak is dark in color.
On either side of the head feathers stick up to form a ear tufts. These can be raised or lowered. At the end of the body is a short tail which helps them to manoeuvre through the forest.
An average eastern screech owl measures 22cm (8.5in) long with a wingspan of 48-61cm (18.9-24in) across. An average weight for the species is 130-180g (4.6-6.3oz). Both genders have a similar appearance and size.
Eastern screech owls are carnivores and feed on small animals and invertebrates. Almost anything is eaten making them an opportunistic hunter. Prey can be caught either on the ground or in flight.
Prey is swallowed whole. The bones and fur can not be digested and are regurgitated as a pellet. Scientists can work out what the owl has eaten based on the contents of these pellets.
These birds are equipped with excellent hearing to help capture prey.
When food is in abundance they may take excess prey and store it in a cavity for later consumption.
North America is the native home of the eastern screech owl. Their range covers parts of Canada, Mexico and the United States.
They are mostly found across the eastern half of the continent.
Eastern screech owls are found in forest and shrubland. They will also live alongside humans in urban habitats.
Their ability to live in area is reliant on the presence of suitable dead snags and nesting hollows where they can build a nest and rest during the day.
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Breeding takes place during February and March.
Males will perform a courtship display in which they bow, raise the wings and click the bill. They may also provide food to their potential partner. On occasion a single male may mate with two females at once. The second female has been recorded to evict the first and brood both clutches herself.
Nesting occurs within a tree cavity but they will also make use of a nest box provided by humans. Their only nest preparation is to make a depression in the material already in the cavity. Successful nest sites are reused for multiple years.
They deposit in to this nest a clutch of 2-7 white eggs which are incubated for 26-34 days. The female undertakes most of the incubation. A single brood is produced by the pair each year.
Once the eggs hatch both the male and female will work together to bring food.
The adults have been seen to bring blind snakes back to the nest. These burrow in to debris on the base of the nest and feed on the insects which live there. They are thought to help protect the nest from parasites.
Young fledge 4 weeks after hatching but they continue to be fed by the parents for some time after.
Sexual maturity is reached by 1 year old.
As with most owls these birds are active by night.
The wings of the eastern screech owl are shaped to prevent them making noise. This helps them to silently swoop down on to prey unnoticed.
Bird watchers are more likely to hear than see an eastern screech owl. These birds produce a trilling or whinnying song.
Eastern screech owls are highly defensive over their territory and will strike intruders on the head including humans.
Owls have asymmetrical ear openings. This means one ear sits higher than the other and allows them to triangulate sounds easier to locate prey.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the eastern screech owl include mammals such as minks, weasels and skunks, snakes and birds such as crows, blue jays and larger owls.
At present the population of the eastern screech owl is estimated to include 560,000 individuals. This has been declining for the past 50 years with an estimated 41% decline from 1970 to 2014.
Their species name asio comes from a Latin word meaning “horned owl.”
The appearance of the eastern screech owl is similar to that of the western screech owl but their range does not overlap and their calls are not similar to one another. Eastern screech owls are also slightly smaller than the western.
Other common names for this species include the common screech owl, little owl, little horned owl and red owl.
Top and Middle One
Virginia State Parks staff, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Middle Two and Bottom
Public Domain. USFWS.
BirdLife International. 2019. Megascops asio. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T155660662A152331179. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T155660662A152331179.en. Downloaded on 23 July 2021.
Allaboutbirds.org. 2021. Eastern Screech-Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [online] Available at: <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/id> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Audubon. 2021. Eastern Screech-Owl. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/eastern-screech-owl> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Nhpbs.org. 2021. Eastern Screech Owl – Megascops asio | Wildlife Journal Junior. [online] Available at: <https://nhpbs.org/wild/EasternScreechOwl.asp> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Lewis, D., 2021. Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) – Information, Pictures, Sounds – The Owl Pages. [online] The Owl Pages. Available at: <https://www.owlpages.com/owls/species.php?s=850> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Chesapeakebay.net. 2021. Eastern Screech-owl | Chesapeake Bay Program. [online] Available at: <https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/eastern_screech_owl> [Accessed 23 July 2021]. Lehigh Valley Zoo. 2021. Eastern Screech Owl – Lehigh Valley Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.lvzoo.org/animals/eastern-screech-owl/> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Peregrinefund.org. 2021. Eastern Screech-Owl | The Peregrine Fund. [online] Available at: <https://peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors-species/owls/eastern-screech-owl> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Elmwood Park Zoo. 2021. Eastern Screech-Owl | Elmwood Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/animal/eastern-screech-owl/> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
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