The Eastern Screech Owl

SIR TUFTS, AN EASTERN SCREECH OWL

Eastern Screech OwlLittle Sir Tufts was found by members of the NSW on one of their outings when they found him with his feet caught under a fence. He appeared to be in pain as he let out a plaintiff cry. His leg was broken. The group of owl enthusiasts happened to have a bird rescue and rehabilitator in their group that day. Together, they lifted the wire on the fence as Dolores Craig carefully lifted the tiny owl into a rescue box the group had prepared. Then off to the Chewonki Foundation where Sir Tufts continues to be housed.

Not all rescued owls become permanent residents of the Chewonki program. It is always the hope that they will eventually be able to return to the wild where they belong. While a resident, Sir Tufts has a job. He travels with the program’s education program, the Traveling Natural History program which aims to educate the public and school children about owls.

FUN FACTS ABOUT THE EASTERN SCREECH OWL

  • The Eastern Screech owl is the owl that gave S-C-R-E-E-C-H owls their name. Their quavering trill is described as “haunting” and is often in the background in TV and movie screens. Not only do they produce a sound like the whinnying of a horse, but they also bark, rasp and chuckle depending upon the situation. Here is a clip of the whinnying variety.
  • The many different calls of the Eastern Screech owl have different purposes. There are territorial calls, mating and courting calls, juveniles begging for food and “advertising” calls bidding the arrival of food at the nest or the availability of a nest.
  • Their noisy calls can be nuisance enough to make other owls move on. It also alerts other birds to the predator’s presence and teaches the young about “danger”.
  • The coloring of these owls differs.  Some are reddish, some gray and others have brownish plumage.
  • The “food choices” of this owl are the most varied of any American owl. They will eat almost anything that moves runs, flies, wiggles or swims. This includes, but is not limited to, tadpoles, rats, moles, rabbits, crayfish, songbirds, mice, earthworms and insects.
  • The Eastern Screech owl is agile enough to feed on bats. They are occasionally cannibalistic if food is short. If food is short, these owls are known to commit “sibicide” by killing and eating their owl siblings.  This behavior is not uncommon among birds but is sometimes blamed on “poor breeding.”
  • The behaviors and feeding habits of the Eastern Screech owl and the sounds they make are quite unexpected for an owl that is only the size of a pint glass.
  • The ESO doesn’t build a nest. The female will lay her eggs on whatever debris is at the bottom of her nesting cavity whether it be woodchips, twigs or feathers from last year’s  nest. The owl settles in and creates a depression where she lays her eggs.
  • The ESO has been known to nest in woodpiles, mailboxes and crates left on the ground.
  • Eastern Screech owls are also conducive to nesting in “owl boxes” that you can make on.
  • The ESO is usually monogamous. But sometimes the male will mate with 2 different females. The 2nd female may “evict” the 1st female from the nest, lay her own eggs and then “incubate” both clutches.
  • If you want to sight an Eastern Screech owl, listen for commotion among other birds, such as blue jays or chickadees. They may be swooping around an Eastern Screech owl.

OTHER FACTS ABOUT THE EASTERN SCREECH OWL

  • Scientific Names: Megascops asio
  • The plumage of both male and female are alike but again, as with most owls, the female is a bit bigger.
  • They have relatively large feet and their ear tufts are prominent if raised.
  • They have small yellow eyes.
  • They are mostly nocturnal hunters but occasionally hunt during both the day and night. Are known to be CREPUSCULAR (hunt at twilight- dusk or dawn).
  • Length: 8.5 inches. Wingspan: 21 inches.
  • Their wings are rounded and their tails squared.
  • They lay their eggs early in March.
  • “Fledging” begins mid- to late-May. In bird talk, to “fledge” means preparing to leave the nest.
  • The young are dependent on their parents at 8 to 10 weeks.
  • Habitats: woodlands are common but the ESO can also be found in orchards, city parks and gardens. They are sometimes seen flying around street lights in suburban areas trying to catch insects.