Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Eastern Screech-Owl

One of the most common and widespread owls in North America, the eastern screech-owl is often overlooked because of its small size and excellent camouflage. The more you learn about these small but fierce owls, however, the more you realize they’re well worth looking out for!

Eastern Screech-Owl Gray Morph - Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
Eastern Screech-Owl Gray Morph – Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Eastern Screech-Owl Fun Facts

  • The eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) is part of the Strigidae bird family, which includes all owl species other than barn owls and their close relatives. It is one of 24 species of screech-owls in the world.
  • Other names for the eastern screech-owl include just the screech-owl, common screech-owl, scritch owl, red owls, little horned owl, and the feathered wildcat.
  • The eastern screech-owl and western screech-owl were once considered the same species, but careful study and examination of different bird populations led to them being split into different species in 1983.
  • Male eastern screech-owls are smaller than females, and are more agile hunters and fliers. Males also have slightly deeper voices than females.
  • Eastern screech-owls hunt a variety of prey, including small mammals, crayfish, frogs, lizards, tadpoles, salamanders, spiders, moths, snails, scorpions, fish, bats, worms, and songbirds.
  • There are two color morphs of the eastern screech-owl – gray and red or rufous. About two-thirds of these birds are gray, and one-third is the rufous morph. More red owls are found in the eastern and southern parts of the owl’s range.
  • Despite their name, these owls do not “screech” but instead use a variety of trills, whinnies, barks, hoots, chuckles, whistles, chatters, and other noises in their vocal repertoire. Both males and females vocalize and will occasionally perform duets, though males are generally noisier.
Eastern Screech-Owl Red Morph - Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
Eastern Screech-Owl Red Morph – Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Adding the Eastern Screech-Owl to Your Life List

These owls are more common than many birders realize, and might be found anywhere within their range where mature trees offer nesting and roosting sites. This includes urban and suburban areas, parks, cemeteries, and other unusual habitats. Because of their small size and superb camouflage, however, eastern screech-owls can be hard to see. Instead, listen for their trill-like, whinnying call to help locate the birds. They will be most easily seen at twilight in late summer, when juvenile birds are more active and learning to hunt. These birds will also readily take over woodpecker cavities or use nestboxes in suburban areas, giving birders excellent opportunities to spot them. Consider joining owling walks at surburban nature preserves and wildlife refuges for more chances to spot these and other owls.

Learn More About the Eastern Screech-Owl

There is always more to learn, even about a relatively common bird like the eastern screech-owl. Start with these superb resources…

Eastern Screech-Owl Owlet - Photo by Matt Tillett
Eastern Screech-Owl Owlet – Photo by Matt Tillett

One thought on “Discover the Eastern Screech-Owl

  1. Michelle

    I HAVE A SCREECH-OWL perched on my back porch light!!! I first realized “something” was outside late last night with me but only bc as I came outside, I was looking at the ground & that “something” flew, super fast, right by my head. I swear, I thought it was huge for some reason & I ran inside screaming “A turkey ( 😬) was right outside & it flies just like a regular bird!?” My bf thought I had turned all the way goofy at that very moment. I forgot all about “Mr. Turkey” & didn’t think about it again. Fast forward to just a bit ago ( about 10pm 11/17/2022 ) I went to take my dog out & for some reason I looked up at my porch light ( I have no idea what prompted me to even look bc i didn’t think I heard or saw anything- it was just a weird last-minute impulse!? ) & there sat this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL BIRD staring down at me! I have never seen in owl in person & ESPECIALLY that close ( it was not even 2ft above me! ) I dropped my dogs leash & zipped around & FELL back through my doo & slammed the door. I realized I just left my dog & woke my son & bf up by screaming for someone to help me ( too dramatic- I know! ) My bf opened the door & peeked out & it was still there! It didn’t fly away for some odd reason & was just calm as could be. I don’t know if that is a rare occurrence for anyone to get to experience an encounter with an owl & especially one that was so close so, I had to share! I have been reading & trying to learn more about owls since! I have never felt more frightened/ panicked/ worried then when I looked up at that owl & instantly remembering the MANY myths I have heard about them- which prompted me to do my own research.

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