If you live in either of the Americas, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or heard a Screech Owl making its presence known. Their primary call and the one you’re most likely to have heard is an accelerating series of short whistles at an increasing tempo. It’s characteristic and difficult to miss. As their name would imply, they at times also emit a loud high pitched screech.
The Western Screech Owl is native to all areas of North America. It can flourish in most ecosystems, and at times it is even known to inhabit suburban parks or gardens when no other habitats are available.
These birds are similar in size to the European Scops Owl. Their wingspan averages at 55 cm and they have an average body length of 22 cm. They weigh only about 143 g (5 oz.), with the females generally outweighing the males. The Northern variety of owl is notably larger than its southern counterpart.
Otherwise known as megascops kennicottii, named to commemorate American naturalist Kennicott, the Western Screech owl is a successful hunter. The Owl perches atop the trees and waits to swoop down on unsuspecting prey. In addition, they can also catch insects during flight. The active period of the Western Screech is around dusk or at night. This is when they do most of their feeding and are most active. They will feed mostly on small mammals, birds, and large insects. They have excellent hearing and night vision useful in locating prey.
There are nine recognized subspecies of Western Screech owl, the morphs including Brown Pacific, Grey Pacific, Great Plains, Mojave, and Mexican. They’re all either brown or dark gray with streaking on their under parts. Big, bright, yellow pupils and distinct ear tufts help characterize them as the Western Screech.
The flight of the Western Screech Owl is graceful and virtually soundless, composed of soft wing beats paired with smooth gliding. They will become motionless if disturbed while roosting, sometimes even able to be caught by hand in this distressed state. They become extremely aggressive when defending nest sites and like a great many other animals have been known to attack humans who they feel threaten these sites.
The natural predators of these owls are few types of hawk as well as weasels, raccoons, at times even other owls. Since they are dependent on woodlands or mixed forests for habitat, elimination of these forests remove places for them to nest and hunt. Even with this, they’re very adaptable and known to survive in suburban wooded areas and city parks. Although habitat destruction does play a factor, most population fluctuation is dependent on availability of prey in their area.