Eastern Screech-Owl

Otus asio
Family

Strigidae (typical owls) in the order Strigiformes (owls)

Description

This is the only small, yellow-eyed owl with prominent ear tufts in Missouri (though ear tufts may be lowered and concealed from view). There are three color morphs (forms) in our state: gray, brown, and red. Of these, the red is the least common in Missouri. The call is rarely described as a “screech.” Instead, the whistled call is either a quavering, ascending then descending whinny, or a monotone trill, often in a duet with its mate.

Size

Length: 8½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail). Wingspan: 20-22 inches.

FG-0040_Owl_Screech-Red-faced.mp4

Video of an eastern screech-owl (red phase).

Eastern Screech Owl

Audio of an Eastern screech owl.
Habitat and conservation

Open woodlands, forests, rural woodlots and city parks and lots, orchards, deep woods. Preferred trees are cedars and pines. Nesting is in tree cavities, and many of these are ones created originally by woodpeckers. Eastern screech-owl populations suffer as dead, hollow trees are removed. Also, pesticides and car collisions cause many deaths.

Foods

This smaller owl eats smaller prey—beetles, grasshoppers, moths, mice, shrews, moles, crayfish, fish, frogs and small birds. Like other owls, this species uses its exceptional senses of hearing and sight to home in on its targets.

image of Eastern Screech-Owl distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common permanent resident.

Life cycle

Nesting is from March through May in Missouri. Four or five white, roundish eggs are laid, usually in a tree cavity, occasionally in bird houses and rarely in buildings. Incubation lasts 26 days, and the owlets are reared for 28 days. This rather tame owl is active strictly at night.

Human connections

This owl is surprisingly common near towns, though it is rarely seen. It preys on many small creatures that can cause problems for humans. Owls as a group have been significant in human culture for ages; the Greek goddess Athena was associated with owls, and both symbolized wisdom.

Ecosystem connections

Although it is very similar in habits and hunting strategies to our other owls, this smaller species preys on slightly different animals—insects and small rodents—thus they occupy a unique niche among nighttime predators.