The Western screech owl, belonging to genus Megascops, is a small-sized owl, closely related to the European scops owl. Till the 1980s both Eastern Screech owl and Western screech owl were believed to be the same species, as they look alike. However, their vocalizations are different.
Species: M. Kennicott
The scientific name for Western screech owl is Megascops kennicottii.
The average length of an adult is 22 centimetres, and their weight can be between 89 to 220 grams. Their wingspan is around 55 centimetres. Females tend to be a little bigger than males.
There are many morphs – Gray Pacific, Brown Pacific, Mexican, Mojave and Great Plains. All of them carry brownish, reddish-brown, or greyish plumage. Its belly and breast region are dull with spidery, dark streaks. Their appearance is quite similar to that of the Eastern screech owl or the Whiskered owls. They have rounded head and its face is dull-colored, marked-off with dark curves. They carry a pair of yellow eyes, and their eyebrows are a little paler compared to the surrounding plumage. They also carry yellow bill. Ear-tufts are pointed and short. Their flight feathers are barred dark and light.
They live in a wide variety of semi-open or wooded habitats, including wooded suburbs, mixed woods, deciduous forests, forest edges, mesquite groves, canyons and in saguaros. They prefer trees like bigleaf maple, oak, water birch, alder, aspen and cottonwood. They tend to avoid high elevation regions in mountains and extreme desert conditions.
This species mostly live in the western part of north and central America. They are found in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The Western screech owl is a nocturnal species. They leave their roost at around sunset in order to forage and come back during sunrise. They are socially monogamous, but both male and female mate outside the pair. During courtship, they sing together, and male present food to the female. During this time, males tend to roost near their nest. Near the end of the nesting period, the female also leaves the nest and roost with the male. Both parents guard their nest entrance against predators like jays, crows etc. They perch unnoticeable on trees and keep a good eye on the ground in search of prey. At times, they also perch on creeks looking for crayfish. They are capable of catching flying insects or bats in the air.
Like many owls, the Western screech owls do not build a nest, instead, they nest in tree holes excavated by woodpeckers; or in naturally occurring three cavities. At times, they nest in cavities in banks and cliffs. They have also been noticed using nest boxes and old magpie nests.
Courtship displays include clicking of the bill, bowing, bringing food to the female, preening each other and calling together. Females lay 2 to 6 white colored, eggs following copulation. Incubation goes on for 26 days on average, and it is done by the female. The male brings food for the female during this time, The female does not leave the young ones for the first three weeks. The owlets leave the nest after four weeks from hatching. However, they stay with their parents for another five weeks or so.
It is a carnivores species. They feed on small mammals, birds, amphibians, invertebrates and fish. Their feeding habit varies depending on season and place. Their mammal prey includes kangaroo rats, woodrats, shrews, grasshopper mice, deer mice, pocket mice, rabbits and bats. Their invertebrate prey includes crayfish, whip scorpions, snails, slugs, worms and crayfish.
Their lifespan in the wild is believed to be around 8 years, while some researchers suggest it to be up to 13 years.
Male’s primary call is a mellow, accelerating series ‘hoo..hoo..hoo’ sound, the momentum of which goes up in the end. This is believed to be a territorial call. Other secondary calls include a soft ‘cr..r..oo..oo..oo’ and a sharp bark.
This species’ Pacific Northwest population is vulnerable to predation from the Barred Owls. Loss of forest lands and high-density development are also bring negative impacts to its survival.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
Unlike its name suggests, the Western screech owl does not screech. Instead, they make a series of hollow, short sharp sounds. It carry the ‘screech’ word in its name because it is closely related to Eastern screech owl, whose usual call is a descending whinny.
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