Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)
- The screech owl is a small nocturnal owl with piercing yellow eyes and prominent ear tufts. Nestlings are covered with fluffy white down. It comes in two color morphs, a more common gray phase and a rich reddish phase. Reddish owls are more common in the southern states, while the gray phase prevails in the north. A bird's color has nothing to do with its age or sex, nor does it change over its lifetime. Indeed, both color phases can occur within the same brood. In Texas, the very similar looking western screech-owl replaces the eastern in the Trans-Pecos. At the Pecos River, the ranges of the two species overlap. The best way to tell the two species apart is by listening to their vocalizations, which are markedly different.
- Life History
- The screech-owls are the most strictly nocturnal of all North American owls. For this reason they are more often heard than seen. During the day, they usually spend their time in a tree cavity or old woodpecker hole where they will occasionally be harassed by small birds if their presence is detected.
After dark, the owl emerges to hunt, with most prey items being captured in the first few hours after nightfall. Preferred food items include large insects and small terrestrial mammals, but reptiles, amphibians, bats, spiders, scorpions, snails and earthworms are also taken. When bathing, these small owls will occasionally capture small fish and crayfish which happen by. Food is swallowed whole and small pellets of indigestible materials such as bone, fur and arthropod exoskeletons are regurgitated periodically. Should you find fresh, moist pellets on the ground underneath a large shade tree, it is a good indication you have an owl in your yard.
Screech-owls breed in late winter or early spring and choose a hollow stump or old woodpecker hole as a nest site. Sometimes they will accept specially designed owl boxes, especially when the bottom is covered with sawdust. Nests are usually found from 15' to 20' off the ground. Four to five white eggs are laid in the nest and the young hatch synchronously after 26 days of incubation. Nestlings are defended vigorously by both parents. Tended by both male and female, young birds fledge after four weeks.
- A common denizen of open woodlands and clearings, the eastern screech-owl can often be found in parks and suburban yards.
- The eastern screech owl ranges throughout the entire eastern half of the United States.