Eastern Screech Owl
Common to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this small nocturnal raptor stands 7 to 10 inches tall, and is rarely glimpsed by humans. Large ear tufts, white brows and yellow beak and eyes give it the appearance of a juvenile Great Horned Owl. It is best identified by its distinctive call, which varies from a low whistle or whinny to a hoot.
The Eastern screech owl inhabits woodlands, open fields and orchards from Canada to Florida, and as far west as Montana and southern Texas. It prefers to nest in woodlands near meadowlands and marshes, and will frequently inhabit parks in urban areas. Screech owls consume insects that are active at night such as moths and spiders as well as amphibians, fish, reptiles, field mice and voles. In winter, its diet is largely restricted to small mammals, including bats and flying squirrels.
The mating call of the male screech owl can be heard in late winter in rural areas. Females choose nesting sites in tree cavities, woodpecker holes or abandoned bird houses to which they return year after year. The openings are usually 3 to 5 inches in diameter and are sometimes 30 feet off the ground. The female lays up to seven small white eggs that she incubates for approximately 26 days, during which time the male hunts and gathers food. Once the owlets hatch, both parents feed them until they leave the nest.
Eastern screech owls can be aggressive when they sense a threat to their nesting area, and are known to be fiercely protective, possibly due to heavy predation of their nests by raccoons and other mammals.
Photo of Eastern Screech Owl