Screech owls are common throughout North America. They are nocturnal, so it is more common to hear them at night than to see them. They generally hoot, though they do screech when threatened. Other evidence will be the pellets they drop. These are balls of fur and bones, and anything they cannot digest. You may also notice a drop in the rodent population, which is generally good.
Screech Owl Habitat
In the United states there is a western screech owl, and an eastern species. Chances are good there are screech owls near you. Though the numbers have dwindled due to habitat loss, they can return if nesting boxes are placed where trees have been removed. These owls are naturally found in forested woodlands and riparian areas, but manage to adapt near small populated areas. In desert regions they will build nests in saguaro cactus.
Screech Owl Description
Screech owls are small weighing only 7 oz. at maturity. They range from 8 to 9 inches in height. The eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) has mottled brown and gray feathers and a white face outlined in black. The western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii) has slightly darker plumage, which can turn nearly red in the Pacific Northwest. From a distance, there is little difference between the two species. The most noticeable identifying factor is the color of the bill. The eastern species will have a gray-green bill, and the western species a gray-black bill.
Screech Owl Nests
The most common nesting sites are the cavities of dead trees. They favor deciduous trees, but have also been known to inhabit dead conifer trees. Screech owls will also take advantage of abandoned nest holes left by woodpeckers. Screech owls lay three to four eggs each spring, and the babies hatch out in approximately 26 days. The fledglings remain nearby until fall, then they seek out their own homes.
Screech Owl Nest Boxes
Owl nests should be installed at 10 to 20 feet up off the ground. They also need to be placed in a shady position. Large deciduous trees are the ideal place to hang your box. The tree foliage provides camouflage from predators. The male traditionally plays watchman, while the female sits on her eggs. Screech owl pairs have been known to return to the same nest each year. The box should be made from untreated wood such as cedar. Average dimensions are 12 inches wide and 12 to 24 inches deep. The box should also be 24 inches tall with a 4-inch hole toward the top. Add perches to the outside of the box, so young owls can stay close while learning to hunt. You can choose instructions from the many free nest box plans available, or purchase a finished nest box.
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