Screech Owls: Interesting Facts

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Red Phase Eastern Screech Owl


Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii) - Eye DetailWestern Screech Owl Species Page

Eastern Screech Owl Species Page





Interesting Facts about Screech Owls:

  • Screech Owls are the smallest owls found in North America.

  • Tree Branch Mimic - Predator Evasion Techniques: During the day, these owls conceal themselves in trees, with their plumage camouflaging them well against the bark.

    When confronted by a slightly larger bird of prey (such as a barn owl), they will puff up their plumage to look larger and scare the potential predator away. However, if the opponent is significantly larger, the screech owls will make themselves look skinny (like a tree branch) by elongating the body and flattening their feathers.

    They will also squint their eyes and even sway back and forth to imitate the natural movements of a branch.

  • Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii)Superstitions: Throughout history, owls have been the subject of a multitude of contradictory beliefs.

    They have been feared and hated by some cultures, and admired, loved and even worshipped by others; and many of these speculations began in earliest folklore, and were passed down by word of mouth over generations.

    As suggested by some of their common names (Spirit Owls, Whickering Owls, Demon and Death Owls), they were associated with the occult (i.e., witchcraft), medicine, birth and death. These superstitious beliefs were fueled by their nocturnal habits; their silent flight; the strange, haunting sounds they make; and their huge eyes.

    • In some cultures, it was believed that owls were set loose from the spirit world to catch souls; that if you heard an owl in the middle of the day, someone you know would pass away (hence the name "Death Owl"). In English Folklore, many people believed that the screech or call of an Owl flying past the window of a sick person meant imminent death. The deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustus and Commodus Aurelius were said to have been predicted by owls. "Whickering Owls" on a property were said to be possessed by witches and were there to steal the souls of babies. According to Roman superstitions, witches transformed themselves into owls and sucked the blood of babies.

    • In early Indian folklore, Owls represented wisdom and were said to have powers of prophecy.

    • In the mythology of ancient Greece, these owls were considered protectors and accompanied Greek armies to war. It was considered a sign of victory, if an owl flew over Greek Soldiers before a battle.

  • Red Phase Eastern Screech Owl Silent Flight: Some superstitions with respect to this owl originated from its silent flight. The flight feathers of the screech owls are serrated at their tips, which muffles the noise they make as they flap their wings. This allows them to sneak up on their unsuspecting prey.

  • These owls have such an acute sense of hearing that they can even find mammals under heavy vegetation or snow.

  • Their large eyes and excellent eye sight are useful for picking up small movements at night.

  • Owl Eyes / Vision Adaptations


  • Notwithstanding name, Eastern Screech Owls rarely screech; their calls instead are generally plaintive, mellow trills that descend in tone and have a whinny-like quality. During the day, owls are rarely seen due to their nocturnal habitats - however, their haunting calls are often indicative of their presence.
  • Their maximum lifespan is 20+ years; however, their average lifespan in the wild is only about 3 to 7 years. The mortality of nestlings and juveniles, in particular, is as high as 70% - mostly due to being hit by cars as they hunt in the night; or due to predation by cats, minks, weasels, raccoons, skunks, snakes, and other birds. They are preyed upon by larger owls, such as Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Great Grey Owls, Short-eared Owls, Snowy Owls; as well as hawks and crows. Blue Jays will go after the younger nestlings.

Species Research by Sibylle Johnson

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