Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio)
Eastern Screech Owls (Otus asio), Gray and Red morph - Larry Hitchens
Screech Owl Stretch - Eric Gerber
"Just for the trill of it" - The Eastern Screech Owl has all but totally eluded me over the past years. I'm constantly in search of this species for a photographic opportunity. Perhaps I might correct this and say "In a natural environment". I've found my share of them in the Wood duck boxes at the refuges I visit or in an owl box at a few areas near my home. I'm still looking for that natural nest or roost with an owl in sight. However at the writing of this article I have recently been introduced to an area with the owls present and I plan to explore it thoroughly this spring.
Larry and Eric have been a little more fortunate. Eric has friends with a family of owls that occupy an area of their backyard on a yearly basis and has had multiple opportunities to photograph them in their natural surroundings. He has also been able to capture both color phases of this owl at this location. Larry and I both are still trying to do a gentle twisting of Eric's arm to share his location with us.
The Eastern Screech Owl is quite common so with a little persistence on our part, we should be able to locate a few. I'm planning a visit to my home in Texas later this spring and I plan to look for them there as well. I've heard their trill many times during my visits but have never pursued them. This year will be different!
Screech Owls, Rufous (Red) and Gray morph - Eric Gerber
Eastern Screech Owl Biology
Full House (Otus asio) - Larry Hitchens
The Eastern Screech Owl is a small nocturnal owl of the woodlands with an average length of about 9 inches however; the male of the species is roughly an inch shorter. The female has an average wingspan of 22 inches versus the males at 21 inches. The normal weight of the female is 7.3 ounces with the male near 7 ounces.
There are two color morphs of the Eastern Screech Owl, a gray phase and a rufous (reddish-brown) phase. It can be difficult to distinguish the Eastern from the Western species but the color of the bill will decide. Eastern Screech Owls have gray-green bills while Western Screech Owls have gray to black bills. Their "call' can also separate the two species. The call of the Eastern male includes a long trill or a whinny during courtship while the females may hoot or bark while defending the nest.
The Screech Owl will begin hunting shortly after dusk and continue until dawn however, it may accomplish most of this chore during the first four hours of darkness. The Screech Owl pursues a large variety of prey which can include small mammals, fish, insects and both small song birds and some of the larger upland species to include the Ruffed Grouse. The owls also will prey upon small snakes and soft-shelled turtles.
Breeding season will normally begin around mid April, but can start as early as mid March and continue into May depending on the geographical location and temperatures. They nest almost exclusively in enlarged natural tree cavities but they will also use old Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker cavities. They will also readily use owl and Wood duck boxes. The female will normally lay between 2 and 8 eggs. The period of incubation is normally 26 days following with the young fledging at 31 days.
Red morph and Pennsylvania Owl Box - Jim Flowers
The adult owls will remain in their home territory year-round whereas the young will disperse in the fall. An interesting fact about Screech Owls is that pairs are mostly monogamous and remain together for life. Some males, however, will mate with two different females. The second female may evict the first female, lay her own eggs in the nest, and incubate both clutches.
The Eastern Screech Owl will inhabit areas of open mixed woodlands, parks, wooded suburban locations, mature orchards and wooded areas along streams and wetlands. They will avoid dense forest due to the Great Horned Owl. The Eastern Screech is widespread and locally common throughout the central to eastern United States.