Courtesy photo Eastern Screech Owls are generalists, with unfussy eating and nesting habits, and they adjust well to the presence of humans. In fact, suburban birds often survive better than their rural kin, as suburbs provide more prey, milder climates, and fewer predators.
published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Eastern screech owls must be wise in their choices
When female screech owls are looking for a mate, their criteria might surprise you. The tiny, big eyed, feathered females are checking out the males with the best digs and the most stored food. This may sound a bit shallow, but since this species mates for life and stays monogamous, it's an important decision for both owls to choose wisely.
You may have heard these tiny creatures during the evening hours. The quavering trill that resembles a horse's whinny may last for about three seconds at a time. Usually this indicates that the owls are defending their territory, however males will also sing when searching for a mate. The female trill is slightly higher in pitch. Female owls, along with their young, use a rough, grating rasp to beg for food.
Eastern screech owls only grow to be about seven to 10 inches tall. They generally have a wingspan of 18 to 24 inches. The females are larger than the males, but both have wide-set feather tufts and bright yellow eyes. Coloration includes brownish or grayish hues and a lighter underside. They are well camouflaged in wooded areas and if sitting on a branch are difficult to spot.
Since they are predators and must hunt to survive, they are built for attacking prey. Due to their small size, they need to rip their food into bite-sized pieces. Screech owls are equipped with razor sharp claws and a curved bill, which they use to tear prey into portions small enough to swallow.
Hunting is done at night when the small raptor emerges from its nest in search of food. They are not finicky eaters and will dine on a variety of prey, such as songbirds, small rodents, rats, insects, reptiles, and small mammals. Hunting consists of sitting in a tree in wait for passing prey. When the target is spotted, the tiny owl pounces upon it from a distance of up to 10 feet off the ground. Once the prey has been captured, it is usually taken back to the nest and torn into pieces before being consumed.
After dining, screech owls regurgitate the bones, fur, and feathers of their prey in an oval pellet, usually once or twice a day. One sure sign of a screech owl nest is the ground littered with these pellets beneath a tree. They prefer somewhat open landscapes with oak, pine and sycamore trees that are older and have existing cavities for nesting.
Old and decaying trees are a vital part of the screech owls existence since they do not usually build their own nests. They use cavities left by other birds and animals. Once the female has laid her eggs, the male takes care of her by bringing her food while nesting. Once the young are hatched, both parents care for the fledglings. The young stay with the parents for about eight to 10 weeks before going off on their own.
Cool facts about the Eastern Screech Owl
- The eastern screech owl is found throughout the eastern states of America and Southern Canada.
- The eastern screech owl is scientifically called Megascops asio.
- It is the smallest species of owls in North America.
- They normally have a clutch of about five young owls.
- The habitat consists of forests, wooded swamps, cemeteries and suburban areas.
- Courtship occurs late January through mid-March, with the male advertising its presence and also potential nest sites. Eggs are laid beginning in early March; fledging begins mid- to late May.
- Male Eastern Screech Owls are smaller than females, and are more agile fliers and hunters. The female doesn't hunt while on the nest; she and the chicks depend on food brought them by the male. Though the male is smaller, his voice is deeper than the female's.
- Smaller birds can help you find screech-owls during the day. Listen for a commotion of Blue Jays, chickadees, and titmice -- they may be mobbing a screech-owl (or other raptor), swooping around it with noisy calls. This can be enough of a nuisance to make the owl move on, and it alerts other birds to the predator's presence and teaches younger members of the flock about the danger.
- Nestling Screech owls fight fiercely among themselves for food, and sometimes even kill and eat their smallest sibling.
- Eastern Screech Owls of the suburbs may fledge more young than their rural counterparts, probably because their predators are scarcer in the suburbs.
- At fledging, the young first hop to the ground or nearby branches, using feet and fluttering wings to climb laboriously back to safety. Young gain flight and hunting skills slowly; gradually, as the young gain skill, they begin to roost and hunt apart from their parents and siblings.
- This little owl is a generalist, with unfussy eating and nesting habits, and it adjusts well to the presence of humans. In fact, suburban birds often survive better than their rural kin, as suburbs provide more prey, milder climates, and fewer predators.
Listen in wooded areas at night for the trills and whinnies of this vocal owl. Your best chance of seeing an Eastern Screech Owl may be to listen for the excited voices of songbirds mobbing an owl they have found. You can also look closely at tree cavities and nest boxes; especially on cold sunny days, you may see the owl sunning sleepily in the entrance.
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