How The Peregrine Fund is helping
The Peregrine Fund is not working directly with Eastern Screech-Owls, but our conservation efforts through habitat protection, education, and community outreach extend to all raptor species, including this owl. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.
Where they live
The Eastern Screech-Owl is found throughout most of the eastern half of the United States, generally east of the Rocky Mountains into parts of southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico.
When it comes to Eastern Screech-Owl habitat, think trees, trees, and more trees! Whether deciduous or evergreen, or growing in wooded parks, urban areas, or riparian zones, this owl can be found living just about anywhere it can find a healthy stand of trees. They may be heard calling from someone's backyard on a clear night or seen roosting near a stream in a national forest or diligently watching for prey from the branches of a pine tree in a local park.
Though it uses these wooded habitats to nest and to roost, the Eastern Screech-Owl prefers more open spaces such as fields, wetlands, or forest edges when it comes time to hunt.
What they do
The Eastern Screech-Owl is another adorable owl, but let's face it, which owl isn't? With its bright yellow eyes, small ear tufts (which aren't really ears at all!), a pale greenish/yellow beak surrounded by pale, specialized feathers that work like whiskers, and its feathered legs, the Eastern Screech-Owl is almost too cute to handle. The overall coloration of individual Eastern Screech-Owl can vary widely. Some individuals are grayish while others may be a rusty/reddish color.
Though called "screech" owls, these little owls make a variety of sounds from hoots and barks to trills, whistles, and whinnies! Next time you are in Eastern Screech-Owl habitat, particularly at night, stop and listen. If you hear some strange sounds coming from the forest, you just might be listening to the call of an Eastern Screech-Owl. They can be hard to spot during the day because of their small size and incredibly effective camouflage, so one of the best ways to find them is to follow your ears!
And speaking of ears... Eastern Screech-Owls, like other owls, have asymmetrical ear openings. This means that one ear opening is located higher up on one side of the head, while the other ear opening is located lower on the other side of the head. There can also be one ear opening that is a bit farther forward on the head while the ear opening on the other side of the head is a bit farther back. The ear positions can be any combination of high, low, forward, and back! This helps owls better triangulate sounds, thus finding prey that much easier.
While the Eastern Screech-Owl is a highly skilled hunter, its small size can sometimes make it easy pickings for a hungry predator. The owl uses its camouflage to help hide from those hoping to turn it into a meal. When it sees a predator approaching, or otherwise feels threatened, it will often flatten down its feathers and stretch its body very tall to blend in even better with its surroundings. In short, it hopes to be mistaken for a tree branch – an unappetizing snack for most predators.
This owl, like most owls, is nocturnal – though sometimes it will begin hunting during the crepuscular (or dusk) hours.
Why they need our help
The Eastern Screech-Owl is considered a species of "Least Concern," which means that it is relatively common and widespread and that its populations appear to be relatively stable. This doesn't mean that these owls don't face threats, though. Because they need trees for roosting and nesting, they could become vulnerable to habitat loss through logging and clear-cutting. They also have many natural predators, including many other owl species such as Snowy Owls, Great-horned Owls, and Great Gray Owls. They may also fall prey to a number of mammalian predators such as mink, skunks, and raccoons. Even birds such as crows and jays may make a meal out of an Eastern Screech-Owl.
What they eat
As you now know, the Eastern Screech-Owl is not too picky about where it hangs its hat. It is also quite open to eating just about anything that is small enough for it to catch. They will eat anything from small mammals such as deer mice, shrews, squirrels, moles, and bats, to small birds such as finches and flycatchers, as well as doves and quail. Other prey include large insects, crayfish, earthworms, toads, lizards, snakes, spiders, and centipedes.
You can probably imagine that since they catch a variety of prey, they also need to have a variety of hunting techniques. Their main hunting strategy is to watch for prey from a perched position, then swoop down to catch their tasty meal. They also forage while walking along the ground, and have been seen fishing at water edges.
Like other raptors, this owl uses its feet to capture and kill its prey. It might only eat a portion of what it catches right away, preferring to cache (or store) the rest to be eaten at a later date.
Nest, eggs, and young
Scientists believe that Eastern Screech-Owls are monogamous and mate for life. This means that the same male and female will stay together, unless one of them dies. It is the male's job to attract the female and he does so using a series of calls and elaborate head bobs. Similar to the Boreal Owl, the Eastern Screech-owl nests in natural tree cavities, that can include old woodpecker holes. They will also nest in artificial nest boxes, just like American Kestrels do!
Like other owls, they don't lay down any sticks or twigs at the bottom of the nest. They simply lay their eggs on the natural substrate at the bottom of the tree cavity. The female normally lays between 3-8 eggs which must be incubated for roughly 26 days. During this time, the male does the majority of hunting for both himself and the female. He will also lend a hand (or a wing!) with incubation to help make sure the eggs are safe and at the right temperature.
Once the little owl chicks hatch, they look like fluffy balls of cotton but will grow quickly. After only one month, it will be time for them to leave the nest and begin to stretch their wings. While they perfect their flying and hunting skills, they will remain in their parents' territory for 5-6 weeks. Screech-Owls can reproduce at 1 year of age.
Eastern Screech-Owls are not found in Idaho, but their closely related cousin, the Western Screech-Owl, is commonly found throughout the state.
Eastern Screech-Owl and The World Center for Birds of Prey
Come to The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey and meet Rusty, our Eastern Screech-Owl, and Winston, our Western Screech-Owl. They are often out greeting visitors during bird presentations and sit comfortably on their handlers' gloves, which allows you to get a close up view of these exceptionally cute raptors.
Additionally, the World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room feature activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes. There is also a touch table with owl feathers and other natural objects for exploration.