Eastern Screech Owl

Photo by: Billi Krochuk

Species: Eastern Screech Owl

Scientific name: Otus asio

Status: Common

Description: The eastern screech owl has two colour phases, the grey phase (southern) and rufous phase (northern). Although the colour morphs look different, generally you will see a mix of banding and spot markings that allow them to have bark like camouflage (deciduous (e.g., maple), for grey morphs, coniferous (e.g., pine) for rufous phase).  Screech owls have big yellow eyes, small feathery feet, and ear tufts; which help them camouflage. These birds are the 2nd smallest owl species in Ontario.

Habitat: Screech owls are found most commonly in deciduous woodlands, or in trees within cities or along streams. This bird is most active at night (nocturnal), although they do also hunt at dusk and dawn (crepuscular), and can be seen during the day just “hanging out”.

Breeding: Screech owl breeding season is during the late winter-early spring (February-April). Males will defend a small territory that will have several cavity nesting spots. Once the male finds a mate, they will most often mate for life. Females will stay in the cavity incubating the eggs (2-6/clutch) and taking care of the owlets (baby owls). The male will provide food for the mother and babies until the young fledge (leave the nest). The fledglings (young ready to fledge) will move out of the nest cavity and spend time on the branches of the nesting tree, learning to use their wings and feet during this time. The fledglings will leave the nest and set up their own territories approximately 10 weeks after fledging. 

Diet: Prey include a wide variety of birds and mammals. Common prey items are mice, voles, swallows, doves, frogs, and insects, just to name a few. This species is also known to eat bats.

Threats to species: Main threat to species is habitat destruction, although they have so far adapted well to human habitation.

Threat to humans: None.

Fun facts: When threatened, if a screech owl is unable to retreat back into its nest cavity, it will pull in all of its feathers, stand up tall, close its eyes and put up its ear tuffs so that they look like a branch on the tree.

Sources: 

The Cornell lab of Ornithology- http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/id

The ROM field guide to birds of Ontario. 2001. ISBN 0-7710-7650-9.

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