February 2018

Tiny screech owl makes presence known

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

A familiar voice returned to my landscape a couple of weeks ago after nearly a decade away. It’s a voice that I first heard here nearly 20 years ago.

The vocal Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) is a tiny thing, only six to 10 inches tall and weighing four to eight ounces. Its colors range from brownish-gray to reddish-brown. It’s one of the few birds that have several color variations within the same range and brood. Their coloration resembles the bark of trees so the variation may be a camouflage. There’s no marked coloration difference between males and females, but females may be slightly larger.

The nocturnal screech owl is not endangered, probably because it has a widespread habitat throughout the Eastern United States and southern Canada. It also has a diverse diet, which includes small rodents, insects, spiders, crawfish and songbirds. They store or cache their kill to eat later.

This owl tends to be in Indiana year ‘round but seems to be more vocal in spring and fall. Courtship begins in winter and these owls usually mate for life, frequently tending the same nest for several seasons. They have three to five eggs.

Although they are called screech owls, their sound is more of a trill. Another is a whinny, which they call to defend their nests. I’ll confess that the first time I heard a screech owl, I thought it was a loon. Obviously, I’d never heard a loon. To hear a screech owl for yourself, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Web site .

All owls are territorial and the screech owls disappeared from my night scene when a pair of great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) took up residence along the White River near my house. Great horned owls, which are found throughout most of North America, regularly dine on other owls along with songbirds and mammals.

Neither species has done anything to control the chipmunks in my yard, but hope springs eternal.

Comments are closed.