10 Facts About the N.A. Owl with the Most Varied Diet

screech-0124A few weeks ago I featured the call of an Eastern Screech Owl as the Weekly Puzzler. Now I am featuring it again, this time as the Weekly Creature Feature.

Here are some things you may not know about this small owl:

 1. Eastern Screech Owls are among the smallest of the North American Owls. (The burrowing owl and saw-whet owl are also tiny owls) Screech Owls have yellow eyes and are 6.3 -9.4 inches long, with females being larger than males, as is typical in many raptors. These owls have a wingspan of 19-24 inches and weigh in at just 5-6.8 ounces.

2. Screech Owls have the most varied diet of any of the North American Owls. They will eat just about anything they can catch, be it in the air, on the ground or in the water. They are active dusk and into the night, hunting the most during the first four hours after darkness falls. Some things on their menu are crayfish, night-active insects including moths, katydids, crickets, amphibians like frogs and toads, small birds, small mammals, reptiles and even earthworms.

A katydid

A katydid

3. Like other owls, Screech Owls do not digest the bones, fur and feathers of the animals they eat. This material is formed into an oval ball, called an owl pellet, and regurgitated. Looking through owl pellets is an extremely interesting activity–allowing you to piece together many of the critters the owl feasted on that day. Small soft-bodies animal like insects and earthworms however will not be represented.

4. Eastern Screech Owls make a variety of sounds, though admittedly, the most famous of all is the quavering, low-pitched trill that seems to find its way into so many movies to “set the scene” for some nighttime action. Because of this, many people associate the sound with something scary, not knowing the source is a small, pint-sized owl. Click below to hear some of the sounds this owl makes. (This from Lang Elliot and Nature Sound Studio)

5. Screech Owls nest in tree cavities and will readily use an available nest box (except the one that is in my yard and has been prepared and offered to them for the last 3 years! Read about my two spy cams HERE.)

6. Unlike many other owls, including a Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owls DO NOT have asymmetrical ears, suggesting they have better vision than hearing. (Many owls have asymmetrical ears which means they are not directly across from each other, but one is higher than the other. This allows them to triangulate their prey very accurately.)  By the way, those tufts on their head that are often called “ear tufts”–well those are not ears at all! They are just feathers on their heads that help with camouflage. Their ears, like all owls’ ears, are holes on the sides of their head under their feathers.

7. Most Eastern Screech Owls are monogamous and mate for life. Some males will mate with a second female though and then she will evict the first female and will carry on incubating both sets of eggs.


Raccoons will eat eggs and young owls if they can find them.

8. Screech Owls have one brood each year, usually 3-4 eggs, laid in early March. The female incubates them for 28 days starting after the last egg has been laid. She will be fed by the male, who stays close-by and defends the nest against predators like raccoons, opossums, crows, blue jays, squirrels, and black rat snakes. The owlets will fledge in mid to late May and then will remain dependent of the parents for another 8-10 weeks.

9. Eastern Screech Owls live in much of the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains, south to Mexico and north to southern Canada. They can be grayish or reddish and are a different species than the Western Screech Owl.

10.  Nesting Screech Owlets will fight fiercely among each other, sometimes killing a sibling that is smaller, especially in years when food is scarce or conditions challenging. This is not uncommon in birds of prey and is called Siblicide.


A Barred Owl

Want to read about another OWL common to North America? CLICK HERE to read about the Barred Owl.

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