Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern screech-owl

Megascops asio
Population size
Life Span
14-20 yrs
121-244 g
16-25 cm
46-61 cm

The Eastern screech owl is a small owl that is found in Eastern North America. This bird is native to most wooded environments of its distribution, and more so than any other owl in its range, has adapted well to manmade development; however, it frequently avoids detection due to its strictly nocturnal habits.








Ambush predator












Not a migrant


starts with


U.S. States Animals



Biogeographical realms

Eastern screech owls are found throughout much of eastern North America, from Mexico to Canada. They inhabit open mixed woodlands, deciduous forests, parklands, wooded suburban areas, riparian woods along streams and wetlands (especially in drier areas), mature orchards, and woodlands near marshes, meadows, and fields. Eastern screech owls may even live and nest in spots such as along the border of a busy highway and on the top of a street light in the middle of a busy town square. They often nest in trees in neighborhoods and urban yards inhabited by humans.

Eastern Screech Owl habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Eastern screech owls are generally solitary and can be seen in pairs only during the breeding season and during cold winters sharing a nest to warm up. These owls are strictly nocturnal, roosting during the day in cavities or next to tree trunks. They hunt from dusk to dawn, with most hunting being done during the first four hours of darkness. A combination of sharp hearing and vision is used for prey location. These owls hunt mainly from perches, dropping down onto prey. Occasionally, they also hunt by scanning through the treetops in brief flights or hover to catch prey. When prey is spotted, the owl dives quickly and seizes it in its talons. Small prey usually is swallowed whole on the spot, while larger prey is carried in the bill to a perch and then torn into pieces. Due to their small size and camouflage, Eastern screech owls are much more frequently heard than actually seen. They frequently call at night, especially during their spring breeding season. Despite their name, these owls do not truly screech. Their call is a tremolo with a descending, whinny-like quality, like that of a miniature horse. They also produce a monotone purring trill lasting 3-5 seconds.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Eastern screech owls are carnivores. They feed on insects, crayfish, snails, spiders, earthworms, scorpions, leeches, millipedes, and centipedes. They also hunt small mammals, small birds and sometimes small fish, small snakes, lizards, baby soft-shelled turtles, small frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders.

Mating Habits

26 days
8-10 weeks
owlet, fledgling
1-6 eggs

Eastern screech owls are monogamous and form strong long-term pair bonds; however, sometimes males may mate with more than one female. These birds breed in April and pairs often return to the same nest year after year. They nest in a tree cavity, either natural or excavated by a woodpecker, and may also use nesting boxes erected by humans. Eggs are laid at two-day intervals and incubation begins after laying of the first egg. A clutch of 1 to 6 eggs is incubated about 26 days, and the young reach the fledging stage at about 31 days old. Females do most of the incubating and brooding, but males also occasionally take shifts. The male provides most of the food while the female primarily broods the young. When owlets are small, the female tears the food apart for them. The young remain with their parents until they are 8-10 weeks old and reach reproductive maturity at 1 year of age.


Population threats

Despite being relatively common within their range, Eastern screech owls suffer from deforestation, poisoning which causes the thinning of eggs and failure of nests, and especially predation by Virginia opossums, American minks, weasels, raccoons, ringtails, skunks, snakes, crows, and blue jays. Collisions with cars, trains, and windowpanes kill many Eastern screech owls, the earlier especially while feeding on roadside rodents and road kills.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Eastern screech owl is 560,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Eastern screech owl's plumage ranges in color from gray to brown and to even red or rufous. Even owlets from the same nest may be of a different color. While the gray morph provides remarkably effective camouflage amongst the bark of hardwood trees, red morphs may find security in certain pine trees and the colorful leaves of changing deciduous trees.
  • Like most predators, Eastern screech owls are opportunistic hunters. Due to the ferocity and versatility of their hunting style, early authors nicknamed these owls "feathered wildcats".
  • The Eastern screech owl's sense of hearing is so acute, that it can even locate mammals under heavy vegetation or snow. The bird's ears (as opposed to its ear tufts) are placed asymmetrically on its head, enabling it to use the differences between each ear's perception of sound to home in on prey. Additionally, the feathers the Eastern screech owl uses to fly are serrated at their tips. This muffles the noise the bird makes when it flaps its wings, enabling it to sneak up on prey quietly. Both the specialized ear placement and wing feathers are a feature shared by most living owl species to help them hunt in darkness.
  • During winter Eastern screech owls may hunt for fish at fishing holes made by people or cracks in ice at bodies of water.
  • Eastern screech owls can imitate the natural movements of a branch; they sway back and forth to look like a tree branch hoping to stay unnoticed by a potential predator.


1. Eastern Screech Owl on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_screech_owl
2. Eastern Screech Owl on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/155660662/152331179
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/690687

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