The Western Screech-Owl is very common, rather little and very inconspicuous. They are only 7 to 10 inches in total length with a squat body. They have yellow eyes, gray or brown feathers that are streaky on the lower body and have a short tail. Like the Great Horned Owl, they have ear tufts (they are not really ears) that fool some into thinking they are baby Great Horned Owls.
These are common in the Western United States and Canada. You will find them in a variety of habitats from deserts, forests, orchards and suburbs. Screech owls will move to higher elevations in our warm summers and fly down to the warmer valleys in winter.
Their nests are in hollow trees or snags from 6.5 to 20 feet up, and sometimes as high as 50 feet off the ground. They do not build a nest nor enhance the cavity they find in a tree. The owl will lay her 3 or 4 eggs on whatever material is in the cavity and incubate them for about 26 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates the eggs and both parents will feed the young after hatching and after they leave the nest.
Western Screech-Owls are nocturnal and hunt at night. Unlike most owls that hunt from the air, these owls hunt from a perch. They locate prey by sight and by sound. When prey is spotted, they swoop down without a sound, grab their dinner and return to a branch to tear the prey apart before eating. Screech owls are carnivores and invertivores. They eat mice and shrews, birds, and small animals as well as a variety of insects like beetles, moths, scorpions, and centipedes. These little owls have been known to prey on cottontail rabbits larger than their own body. Their diet depends on the season and what prey is available.
Though common in our area, they are rarely seen partly because they are nocturnal. But also, when threatened, a Western Screech-Owl stretches its body and tightens its feathers. This makes the owl look like a branch or bark of a tree that defies detection by most predators and why you will rarely see one.
If you would like to see one of these owls, “Marbles” is a Western Screech-Owl and is a Tri County Wildlife Care Education Ambassador. Marbles has cataracts in both eyes probably caused by blunt trauma from a vehicle collision. Marbles is able to fly and land well, but since she cannot see to hunt, she cannot be released.
Our education sessions are free. If you are interested, please call 209-283-3245 to schedule a session.
The oldest known wild Western Screech-Owl was 13 years old. He had been banded in Claremont, California in 1926 and recovered again in 1939.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.