Eastern Screech Owl

Otus asio (Otus is Greek for “an eared owl; asio is Latin for “a kind of horned owl.”)
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton
  • Length: 7-10 inches
  • Wingspan: 18-24 inches
  • Weight: male: 140-210 g, female: 150-235 g.

Sexes alike; there are two color phases, gray and red.  Both gray and red phase owls have prominent ear tufts, when raised (when flattened, their heads appear roundish); in both phases eyes are yellow and bills are pale.  The facial disks in both phases are outlined in black, and both show two rows of white wing spotting and lightly banded tails.

Gray phase: Ash-gray, or gray-brown, above with heavy, dark streaks and crossbars.  Underparts lighter, also with darker vertical and horizontal patterning.  Grayish facial disks.

Red phase: Plain rufous above without the heavy markings found in the gray phase.  Underparts are creamish with rufous crossbars and dark vertical streaking.  Rufous facial disks.

Immature in both phases initially covered with white down.  Gray or red coloring follows with darker horizontal barring without streaks.
Vocalizations include descending whinny or sharp bouncing ball sound on one pitch. 

Subspecies: 
Five recognized, all found in US; asio (nominate) is resident in midwest.
Distribution: 
Southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario south throughout eastern part of US to east Mexico.
Habitat: 
Open woods (oak and cottonwood preferred), forest clearings, old orchards, residential areas with mature nesting hole trees, suburban parks.
Feeding: 
Its opportunistic diverse diet consists of small mammals (mice, rats, shrews, moles, flying squirrels, chipmunks, bats), birds(songbirds, quail and doves, American Kestrels, other screech owls), frogs, lizards, snakes, salamanders, small fish, snails, spiders, milli-and centipedes, earthworms, and insects. It is nocturnal, and hunts by taking short flights from a tree with surrounding open area, or one located on edge of woods.
Breeding: 
March-May. Nests in natural tree cavities, or old woodpecker holes, in open deciduous woodland, parks, towns, scrub; cavity areas along streams or rivers are especially favored. Will use birdhouses. Clutch is 2-8 eggs.
Movements: 
Adults sedentary; 75% of young disperse in fall, relocating between 10 and 32 kilometers from nesting area.
Status: 
Fluctuating status due to habitat loss and the creosoting of telephone poles; the slight declining years seem to bounce back as these owls adapt to suburban life and slowly expand their population westward. Was placed on the Audubon Blue List of declining species in 1981 and then in 1982 and 1986 was listed as “species of special concern.”