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Screech Owl

Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl by Pam Huntley, as heard on

Western Screech-Owls don't screech. Instead they produce a series of evenly pitched notes that accelerate at the end. These calls can be heard in the fall and are frequent during spring courtship. In the evening, their calls drift through both natural and suburban habitats, revealing the owl's otherwise hidden presence. Their bouncing ball whistle is easily imitated and can be used to draw an owl into flashlight range. (Not recommended as a frequent practice in spring and summer.)

Western Screech-Owls are year-round residents in open or broken woodlands, often in riparian areas. They are also found in parklands, suburbs, towns, farms and ranches.

The Western Screech-Owl is seven to eleven inches tall with a wingspan of two feet. Those in our area are light gray with prominent vertical breast streaks. They have yellow eyes and a dark bill. The two tufts of feathers on the top of their head are called ear-tufts.

Screech-Owls hunt from a perch, eating mainly insects, mice and amphibians. They dive into streams for fish or crayfish. They are also known to hunt small birds and have been known to take another Screech-Owl and have the ability to tackle prey larger than themselves. There is a report of a Screech-Owl flying down a chimney and killing a canary inside its cage.

In spring, the male performs his courtship display from a perch, where he bows, raises its wings, snaps his bill and blinks at the female as she approaches. He will also bring food for her, presented with much hopping and bowing. Once established as a pair, they mutually preens and sings duets.

Western Screech-Owls make their nests in abandoned woodpecker holes, old magpie nests and nest boxes. They add no nesting material. The female incubates two to five white eggs for twenty-six days. The male feeds her and roosts with her during the day. Both feed the young. The downy hatchlings leave the nest after another month.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan August 2012
Western Screech-owl photo courtesy of Laura Santry