Creature Feature: Eastern Screech Owl

Did you know Iowa has 9 different species of Owls? One of the most elusive of the group is the tiny Eastern Screech Owl.
Eastern Screech Owls are one of the smallest owls in Iowa at 8.5 inches tall with broad wings, and “ear tufts”. They are sometimes called little horned owl because of this feature. Their plumage can be gray, brown, or red in color with yellow eyes. These owls are highly nocturnal, they roost during the day, becoming active at dusk; so, they are rarely seen hunting and feeding during daylight hours. They will eat anything from small mammals such as deer mice, shrews, squirrels, moles, and bats, to small birds such as finches and flycatchers, as well as doves and quail. Other prey includes large insects, crayfish, earthworms, toads, lizards, snakes, spiders, and centipedes. When hunting the owls swoop down from their perch to capture their prey; they rarely hover while hunting. Screech Owls have been known to cache uneaten prey items in tree cavities! Owls are the symbol of wisdom after all!

Eastern Screech Owls don’t migrate and will maintain home ranges throughout the winter. However, during severe weather, owls may move off their home range in search of food. Surprisingly, despite the name, screech-owls do not just screech. The screech is only one vocalization that they can make, and is generally used when defending the nest and their young. Their “everyday” vocalization is a descending trill or a whinny (like a tiny my little pony).

These owls are primarily solitary except during mating season late winter and early spring. They will nest in hollow trees and in abandoned woodpecker holes. On occasion they might accept wood duck boxes or specially designed owl boxes, especially when the bottom is covered with sawdust. The females incubate the eggs and brood the young. Males feed females and guard nest cavities during incubation and brooding. The young leave the nest at about 28 days old and remain with the parents until they are 8 to 10 weeks old. Both parents will feed the young during this period. Screech owls have the potential to live 8-10 years in the wild. However, because of high mortality rates for both juveniles and adults, very few of them make it to that age. In human care, their lifespan can be as high as 13 years, but please leave them in the wild. They are happier there, and no small point, the United States does not allow private individuals to keep native owls as pets.