|The Screech Owl is widely distributed across the United States, ranging from the southern parts of the Canadian Provinces south into Mexico. It perhaps should have been named the shivering owl, since its call does not resemble a screech whatsoever, but a tremulous, mournful whinny. It is the smallest of the "eared" owls, and probably the most common owl in this country.
Screech owls are very adaptable, living in a variety of habitats from the forests and woodlots of the east and midwest to the giant cactus country of the southeast. They are among the most strictly nocturnal of owls and require cavities, especially old woodpecker excavations, for both roosting and nesting. They occasionally may be found hiding in dense evergreens or even huddled up against a tree trunk, wearing the "hiding pose": plumage tightly compressed, eartufts elevated to their fullest, eyes closed to mere slits, looking for all the world like a broken off stub and not a bird. In many suburban areas, they are easily attracted to nesting boxes.
Screech owls of the east and midwest display a variety of color phases ranging from a bright rusty red to plain gray, and various intermediate shades. Western birds tend to be almost entirely grayish or brownish, but the large, dark race along the northwest coast shows both extremes.
On cold, sunny days, roosting Screech Owls often perch in the entrance hole, exposing their faces to the sun. Should a person approach too closely, the bird will suddenly drop down out of sight. These winter roosts are often used for nesting, which begins in March and April over most of the range. The four to six eggs, like all owl eggs, are pure white. They hatch in less than four weeks. The female attends to all of the incubation and brooding. The male sometimes roosts with her, but more often remains outside nearby, within sight of the nest. If a hole or cavity is not available, he will seek a protected roost outside and rely on his cryptic coloration to hide him from the harassment of blue jays and others. He provides all the food for the family until the owlets become about half,grown and the female is obliged to assist in satisfying the growing appetites.
Screech owls are omnivorous and capture a wide variety of creatures, from small- and medium-sized birds and mammals to reptiles, amphibians and fish. Crayfish are a favorite and, at times, various insects may form the majority of the diet.
The owlets fledge in about four weeks, before they can fly, leaping from the nest and fluttering to the ground. But they immediately seek out a nearby tree and, using beak and feet like a parrot and with rapid fluttering of stubby wings, they quickly make their way up a vertical trunk to the upper branches. Having departed from the cramped quarters of the nest, they are now free to exercise their wings and develop flight muscles.
During the fledging period, a person should be wary about approaching the vicinity of a screech owl nest after dark. The parents are almost always extremely aggressive and will attack and very often strike the intruder, generally on the top or back of the head. Strikes are usually preceded by several close warning passes accompanied by vocalization and bill snapping. Eric Hosking, the leading bird photographer of his day, lost an eye to a tawny owl in England white photographing its nesting activities one night. I never approach a screech owl nest at night without wearing a peaked cap.
Length: 10 inches