Screech owls are carnivorous birds; they eat mice, shrews and smaller birds, as well as insects and crayfish. In the wild, they live as long as eight years, although they have been recorded as living up to 14 years. Screech owls have ear tufts on either side of their heads and feathered toes. Eastern screech owls have yellow bills, while western screech owls have dark bills, and whiskered screen owls have yellow-olive bills.
Eastern Screech Owls
Eastern screech owls live in North America, from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast and from the southern United States north to the southern parts of Canada. Of all the owls in North America, eastern screech owls inhabit the broadest ecological niche: They can live in almost any kind of habitat at elevations below around 1,500 meters, from urban to forest to desert. They nest in abandoned or natural holes in trees.
Western Screech Owls
Western screech owls live in the western parts of the United States and Canada. They can live in a variety of habitats: suburbs, deserts, forests and orchards. However, they tend to prefer lower elevations, and those that live in mountainous areas will sometimes over-winter in warmer valleys. Western screech owls nest in hollow trees or holes that have been abandoned by other birds.
Whiskered Screech Owls
Whiskered screech owls can be found in suitable habitats between northern Nicaragua and the southeastern United States and southwestern Mexico. They live between 1,000 and 2,900 meters' elevation in woodlands around mountains and in forests near rivers. They nest in tree cavities; a male whiskered screech owl will defend multiple cavities, using one as a nest site and reserving the others for food storage, roosts or replacement nests.
Deforestation and the resulting loss of nest sites and prey can affect the eastern screech owl, but the owl is common enough that it is not considered a threatened species. Western screech owls are also not considered threatened, although they are affected by urbanization, the loss of riparian habitats and competition from European starlings and other exotic species. In New Mexico, the whiskered screech owl is threatened due to its restricted habitat in that state. It occurs only in the Peloncillo-Guadalupe Mountains. Habitat loss in El Salvador threatens the species in that country as well.
About the Author
Ellie Gambrel lives in Raleigh, N.C., where she has worked as an editorial assistant since 2007. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in English from a private liberal arts college for women.