Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio)

22 May

Everyone likes owls but they are hard to find unless you are lucky. These are not uncommon on the West Island but more commonly heard rather than seen as they are experts at camouflage. Most birders will know this species only from its trilling or whinnying song. When sitting out the daylight hours they try to settle in a hole on the tree where their feathers camouflage them aginst the tree bark. This bird was a chance encounter and one that I had marked down as hard to photograph for this project – not so!

The Eastern Screech owl is barely larger than an American Robin and is a short, stocky bird, with a large head and almost no neck. Its wings are rounded; its tail is short and square. Pointed ear tufts are often raised, lending its head a distinctive silhouette. Fairly common in most types of woods (evergreen or deciduous; urban or rural), particularly near water.

They eat most kinds of small animals, including birds and mammals as well as surprisingly large numbers of earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and lizards. They eat many kinds of mammals, including rats, mice, squirrels, moles, and rabbits. Small birds taken as prey include flycatchers, swallows, thrushes, waxwings, and finches, as well as larger species such as jays, grouse, doves, shorebirds, and woodpeckers. This owl is agile enough to occasionally prey on bats, and can rarely even be cannibalistic. When prey is plentiful, Eastern Screech-Owls cache extra food in tree holes for as long as four days.

Nest in holes and cavities, but never dig a cavity themselves. Thus, they depend on tree holes opened or enlarged by woodpeckers, fungus, rot, or squirrels. They often occupy abandoned woodpecker nest holes. Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept nest boxes, including those built for Wood Ducks or Purple Martins, and sometimes nest in wood piles, mailboxes, or crates left on the ground.