Find out more about our Species at Risk

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl

Species: Western Screech Owl
Status: Threatened
Key Information:

The Western Screech Owl is nocturnal. It leaves its roost just before sunset to begin a long night of hunting, only returning home just minutes before sunrise. On average they live from 1 to 8 years. They are non-migratory birds and reside in their determined territories year round. In Canada, it is estimated that there are about 350 to 500 adult owls.

These small, stocky owls are hard to spot due to their excellent camouflage, so you are more likely to hear them than see them. Close to sunset, they make a distinct call that sounds like a ping-pong ball bouncing on the ground many times. These calls indicate mating calls and courtship displays or their territorial calls. During courtship displays, a male will make his “bouncing ball” call and wait for a nearby female to respond. They will then sing a duet together and the male will proceed to present food to the female.

During breeding season, the female will find a suitable cavity in a mature tree to lay her eggs. She doesn’t build a nest, but instead, keeps things simple by just laying 2 to 6 eggs right at the bottom of the tree cavity. She will then stay on her eggs constantly as the male Western Screech Owl brings her food. He will stay close by to nest, choosing to roost in a nearby tree. After the eggs have hatched, the female will continue to stay with owlets for up to 4 weeks.

The Western Screech Owls population is considered to be stable as of now, but due to deforestation for urban and agricultural growth, their habitat is under threat. The status of Western Screech Owl is threatened.

Identification – what to look for:

  • Small
  • Square head
  • Large yellow eyes
  • Ear tufts
  • Dark band of feather bordering their face
  • Grey and brown with dark streaks down their bellies

Where are they found?

  • Found across Western North America
  • They are forest dwellers but can also be found in urban areas
  • They nest in hollows of mature trees

Cool Facts!

  • They can hunt and eat prey larger than themselves (like a cottontail rabbit)
  • The oldest wild pair of Western Screech Owls ever recorded were 13 years old and the oldest pair of captive Western Screech Owls was 19 years old.
  • They are very aggressive when protecting their nests and owlets
  • They are very good at hiding! You’re more likely to hear them then see them
  • The juveniles will stay with their mother for a few weeks after hatching

Useful Links:

Western Screech Owl Calls
Audubon: Guide to Western Screech Owl
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: More Identification Information
COSEWIC Status Report (PDF): Western Screech Owl

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