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What is a Screech Owl?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Screech owls, formally known as Strigidae, are one of the two families of owls. There are more than 20 known species of birds in this family, including the bare-shanked, cloud forest, and whiskered screech owls. It is believed that there are more unknown species. All discoveries of these birds have been limited to North and South America. A screech owl’s name is derived from a characteristic loud wail these birds make.

A screech owl is a small bird. Even when it is fully grown, a screech owl’s height does not generally exceed 10 inches (25 cm). An adult’s wings will generally span 18-24 inches (46-61 cm). The birds usually weigh five to nine ounces (141-255 g). It is common for the females to be fatter than the males, though they remain within this weight range.

Screech owls can be found in a range of colors including gray, brown, and red. One of the most distinctive characteristics of a screech owl, however, is its ability to produce a loud wail that can travel through a forest. They are also known to produce more mellow hooting sounds.

Screech owls are nocturnal creatures. After sunset, they generally begin hunting and can continue with these activities until dawn. A screech owl’s primary hunting technique involves detecting its prey from a perch. Once it is set on its target, the screech owl will swoop down and attack.

Smaller prey, such as earthworms, are usually swallowed whole. However, these birds also prey on animals such as chipmunks, grouse, and moles. When the prey is too large to be swallowed, the screech owl will grab it with sharp talons and take it to a perch where it will use these same tools to rip the catch apart before eating it.

A screech owl spends most of its life in the woods. This is where it mates, reproduces, and cares for its young. Screech owls have an interesting courting procedure which involves a male who flies around to different branches making noises to attract his target female as he gets increasingly close. He may even wink at her. Eventually, he will get close enough that the female can accept his offer, which she does by touching her bill to his.

After mating, a female can lay up to eight eggs. These begin to hatch in less than a month. The duties of caring for the babies are usually divided, with the mother caring for the owlets while the father provides most of the food. A couple of screech owls generally mate for life.

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Discussion Comments
By wesley91 — On Dec 26, 2010

@momothree: There are actually several different species of screech owls. A few of them are: Western Screech Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Pacific Screech Owl, Puerto Rican Screech Owl, Bearded Screech Owl, Tawny-bellied Screech Owl, and many more.

By momothree — On Dec 24, 2010

Are there different species of screech owls or are they all the same?

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