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.
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae
Genus : Megascops
Species : M. asio
The scientific name for Eastern screech owl is Megascops asio.
It has five recognized subspecies. They are –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In spite of their name, they do not screech. They produce soft, purring trills, and whinnies.
Their predators include larger owls and hawks. Nestlings and eggs are vulnerable to ringtails, raccoons, Virginia opossums and black rat snakes among others.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Eastern screech owl in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
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