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Eastern Screech Owl

Megascops asio

Length: 8.5 inches Wingspan: 20 inches Seasonality: All seasons
ID Keys: Tufts on head, yellow eyes, streaked underparts, gray or reddish morph body

Eastern Screech Owl - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owls are a common little owl often found in residential areas and parks, where their haunting calls are often the only indication of their presence.  They are nocturnal, but can occasionally be spotted on perches in thick tree canopies during the day. Their presence is also often given away by birds that are "mobbing", with mixed groups of songbirds aggressively pestering an Eastern Screech Owl found outside during daylight hours.

 There are various color morphs, but the gray morph is generally the most common in the state A red morph is shown in the top photo, but photos of both the gray and red morph can be seen in the photo links at the bottom of the page.


Open forest, isolated groves, residential shade trees.  Generally needs dead trees with nesting holes.


Mostly insects and small rodents.  Will also eat frogs, lizards, earthworms, crustaceans, and small birds. 


Forages at night, primarily by watching from a perch and swooping down when prey is spotted.  They can find prey both by sight and by sound, and are also capable of catching insects in flight.


April and May in South Dakota.  The nest of an Eastern Screech Owl is a cavity in a tree, often an old woodpecker hole.  They also have become well adapted to the use of nest boxes specially sized for screech owls.  The female alone incubates the eggs, but the male will bring food to her during incubation.  Both parents will help to raise the young.


Eastern Screech Owls have multiple vocalizations, with one of the most frequent being a haunting descending whinny. Another frequently heard call is an even pitched trilling call. Other shorter barking or hooting calls are also given.


Considered a permanent resident throughout it's normal range.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Eastern Screech Owl sightings

Similar Species:

The difficulty in identifying an Eastern Screech Owl often lies more with their habits than their visual appearance, as they're relatively distinctive if seen well. "Seeing them well" is the challenge, however, and thus they could potentially be confused with other small owl species:

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Aegolius acadicus Northern Saw-whet Owl - Aegolius acadicus Western Screech Owl - Megascops kennicottii
Northern Saw-whet Owl Northern Saw-whet Owl Western Screech Owl


Will use artificial nest boxes of appropriate size. Except the one in my back yard. They'll use a friend's nest box. They'll use a neighbor's nest box up the street. They know I'm an avid birder, however, and are thus actively avoiding my yard just as one big cosmic joke. Eastern Screech Owls are known comedians.

Conservation Status:

Eastern Screech Owls have adapted well to a human presence, as they're perfectly comfortable nesting and hunting in urban parks and suburban areas. However, systematic surveys in recent years have shown substantial declines in US populations. Habitat loss is probably contributing to the declines. However, they are found across a very broad geographic area, and are still relatively common in many parts of that range. The IUCN currently lists the Eastern Screech Owl as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

  1. OwlPages - Eastern Screech Owl
  2. WhatBird - Eastern Screech Owl
  3. Audubon Guide - Eastern Screech Owl

Photo Information:

June 11th, 2006 - Beaver Creek Nature Area, Minnehaha County, South Dakota- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Eastern Screech Owl photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Eastern Screech Owl - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common permanent resident in the eastern part of the state, uncommon in the west.

Additional Eastern Screech Owl Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Eastern Screech Owl 1 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 2 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 3 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 4 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 5 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 6 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 7 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 8 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 9 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 10 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 11 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 12 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 13 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 14 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 15 - Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl 16 - Megascops asio