How to Identify Eastern and Western Screech Owls
It’s difficult to ID Eastern and Western screech owl species—location is your best bet. Hear their call and learn about their size and nests.
What Do Screech Owls Look Like?
The eastern screech owl is gray, red or brown with heavy streaks below and darker bars on back. Look for small ear-like tufts on the head and a yellow bill.
The western screech owl looks similar but is almost always gray. These birds of prey have a square head and a dark gray bill.
Screech Owl Size
A screech owl measures 8-1/2 inches long, or about the size of a beer glass, with a wingspan of 20 inches.
Screech Owl Nest and Eggs
The female lays four to five white eggs in debris at the bottom of a nesting cavity. As they lose habitat to development, these owls need friendly places to call home. You may be able to attract them to your backyard with nest boxes. The birds will use the box for both roosting and nesting.
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Baby Screech Owl
If you yearn for your very own owl visitors, it is possible to attract them to your yard. Janet Kirk of Fort Myers, Florida, has proof that patience pays off. She put up a nest box four years ago, and a female eastern screech owl finally moved in. A month later, the owl’s mate showed up, and eventually Janet and her family watched three baby screech owls fledge.
Science writer and nature photographer David Shaw had a similar experience. “I watched as the pair of adult owls brought dead mice and voles, and occasional small birds to their growing chicks, which poked their fluffy, down-covered heads out into the open air.”
What Do Screech Owls Eat?
Their diet consists of insects, including worms and moths, small mammals, other birds, fish, spiders and reptiles. Screech owls are fond of water, so get in the habit of looking for one at your bird bath or water feature at night. You won’t hear the bird arrive because an owl’s feathers are specially made for silence—the super soft surface and fringed edges keep prey (and us) from hearing them swoop in.
Screech Owl Sound
Listen to the screech owl’s call to hear what these birds sound like. The eastern makes a tremulous wailing whinny or a long trill; the western makes an accelerating series of short whistles, or a double trill, like a bouncing ball.
Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Learn how to spot the owl in your backyard trees.
Habitat and Range Maps
Look for these owls in any kinds of woodlands, as well as parks, backyards and deserts.
Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.
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