Wildwood Zoo has one male eastern screech owl. He was struck by a car and was lucky to survive! Though wildlife professionals were able to save him, he is left with permanent injuries that will prevent him from being released back into the wild. The owl at Wildwood Zoo is a beautiful red phase, aptly named "Red." We received him from an animal rehabilitator in Michigan on Feb. 28, 2014.
The eastern screech-owl 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. Eastern screech-owls can be either mostly gray or mostly reddish-brown (rufous). Whatever the overall color, they are patterned with complex bands and spots that give the bird excellent camouflage against tree bark. Red and gray individuals occur across the range of the Eastern screech-owl, with about one-third of all individuals being red. Rufous owls are more common in the East, with fewer than 15% red at the western edge of the range. No red owls are known from southern Texas; although they occur further north in Texas and further south in Mexico. Intermediate brownish individuals also occur in most populations.
Eastern and western screech-owl’s ranges do not overlap, so most often they can be safely identified based on location. The two species look extremely similar, but fortunately their vocalizations are quite different. Eastern screech-owls give a whistled trill and western a series of bouncing notes that accelerate toward the end of the song.
Almost any habitat with sufficient tree cover will do for this cosmopolitan owl. Tree cavities or nest boxes are essential, and fairly open understories are preferred, but eastern screech-owls live and breed successfully in farmland, suburban landscapes, and city parks. On the great plains, at the westernmost edge of its range, eastern screech-owls occur in the uneven traces of wooded land along streams and rivers. Screech-owls cannot survive if all trees are removed, but the species readily recolonizes once trees are replanted, especially if nest boxes are also provided.
Clutch Size: 2-6 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 brood
Incubation Period: 27-34 days
Eastern screech-owls build no nest. They 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. The female lays her eggs on whatever debris is at the bottom of her nesting cavity, be it wood-chips, twigs, or the cast-off feathers and droppings from a previous year’s nest. Settling in, she makes a body-shaped depression where her eggs lie. Nestling screech-owls fight fiercely among themselves for food, and sometimes even kill their smallest sibling. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls, and herons, and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
In the wild: Around 14 years
In human care: Around 20 years
Eastern screech-owls eat most kinds of small animals, including birds and mammals as well as surprisingly large numbers of invertebrates, including 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.