Eastern screech owl

The Eastern screech owl, belonging to genus Megascops, is a robin-sized nocturnal bird native to North America. This species often gets confused with the closely related Western screech owl as their general appearance is almost same. Their ranges overlap in the riparian woods of the Arkansas River tributary, and in the Rio Grande valley situated at the Mexico – Texas border. As per Partners in Flight, the present worldwide breeding population stands at 900000.

 

 

Scientific classification of Eastern screech owl

 

Kingdom : Animalia

Phylum : Chordata

Class : Aves

Order : Strigiformes

Family : Strigidae

Genus : Megascops

Species : M. asio

 

Scientific Name for Eastern screech owl

 

The scientific name for Eastern screech owl is Megascops asio.

 

 

Eastern screech owl subspecies

 

It has five recognized subspecies. They are –

 

  • a. asio
  • a. maxwelliae
  • a. hasbroucki
  • a. mccallii
  • a. floridanus

 

 

Eastern screech owl Physical description

 

 

The size of adult specimens tend to be 16 to 25 centimeters in length; their weight is between 121 to 244 grams. Males are smaller than females. There are two morphs. One is with dark-gray plumage, and the second one is with rusty plumage.

Physical description of Eastern screech owl

Physical description of Eastern screech owl

They have streaking on the belly and breast. There is also a rare brown morph in the south of its range. It is believed to be the result of hybridization between the primary morphs. This bird has big, rounded heads and notable ear tufts. They posses yellow eyes; and pale-yellow, hooked beak (the size of which is 1.45 centimeters). They possess relatively large feet and it is feathered along the toes.

Eastern screech owl Habitat

Habitat of Eastern screech owl

Habitat of Eastern screech owl

 

They generally prefer to live in places with mixed or deciduous woods (however, they are also found in any open areas with some big trees). They also breed successfully in farmlands, suburban areas and city parks. In some urban and suburban areas, they take shelter in nest boxes.

Geographical range of Eastern screech owl

Geographical range of Eastern screech owl

Geographical range of Eastern screech owl

 

This bird primarily inhabits the eastern parts of the United States, with scattered populations living in Canada and Mexico. In the United States, they are found all along the Atlantic coastline (from Maine to Florida). Their range extends to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas in the west. A small population is found in the north-eastern part of Mexico and extreme southern regions of Canada.

Behavior and Adaptation of Eastern screech owl

This species is usually nocturnal, though they are often seen in dusk or dawn. During day, they stay in their shelter, which is usually a tree cavity. They look out for prey while sitting in tree branches. Sometimes, they are harassed by group of small birds. They are skillful hunters. They take a typical ‘U’ shaped flight while traveling between tree branches. Males aggressively defend their territory, especially when nesting. Breeding pairs are primarily monogamous. However, some males mate with two females; and if so, the second female evict the first female and incubate both clutches. They use alarm calls, and also physically attack a potential predator. In some of its ranges, they are quite comfortable to human presence. They easily take shelter in nest boxes.

Reproduction of Eastern screech owl

 

Reproduction of Eastern screech owl

Reproduction of Eastern screech owl

Their nesting season starts in later winter, or early spring. Courtship displays include males clicking bill or raising wings. Pairs often preen each other; and sing duet. The nest is typically located 10 to 30 feet above the ground. Female usually lay 4 or 5 eggs that are white in color. Incubation goes on for about 26 days, and it is mostly done by the female. During incubation, male provides food to the female. After hatching, male offer food to the female and the nestlings for the first few days. After that, both male and female give food to the nestlings. The young ones leave the nest in four weeks from hatching.

Diet of Eastern screech owl

Diet of Eastern screech owl

Diet of Eastern screech owl

 

Eastern screech owls feed on birds, small mammals along with lizards, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, insects and earthworms. The mammals they eat include rats, moles, rabbits, squirrels and mice. Birds hunted by them include finches, waxwings, thrushes, swallows, flycatchers, doves, woodpeckers, shorebirds, grouse and jays. They store foods in their cavity if it is abundant.

Life expectancy of Eastern screech owl

 

 

The oldest recorded lifespan of an individual in the wild was approximately 14 years. However, they are known to live for more than 20 years in captivity.

 

 

Vocalization of Eastern screech owl

In spite of their name, they do not screech. They produce soft, purring trills, and whinnies.

Predators of Eastern screech owl

Their predators include larger owls and hawks. Nestlings and eggs are vulnerable to ringtails, raccoons, Virginia opossums and black rat snakes among others.

Conservation Status of Eastern screech owl

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Eastern screech owl in the ‘Least Concern’ category.

Eastern screech owl video

Interesting Facts about Eastern screech owl

  • In the state of Florida, the brown morphs are generally found in more humid areas of the state. A pale-gray morph have also been reported from north-central United States and western Canada.
  • According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their population increased from 1966 to 2015.
  • Individuals breeding in suburban areas raise more fledglings compared to those breeding in woodlands. It is believed to be because they meet with less predators in suburban areas.
  • Newly hatched chicks fight among themselves for food. They often gets injured and even killed by its siblings. This behavior is common among owls, hawks and herons; and it is known as siblicide.

References –

 

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