Bio Facts: Owl, Screech
Alaska and Canada in the north to Florida, Texas and Mexico in the south
Open deciduous woods, suburban areas, lakeshores and old orchards
Screech owls have two color phases – gray and red. They are 8-10 inches in length. Plumage is soft and tail is short. The screech owl has large eyes, tufts of ear feathers and a hooked beak.
10-15 years in the wild
In the wild, they eat mice, insects, birds, frogs, fish and earthworms. In the Zoo, they are fed bird of prey diet, mice, chicks and crickets.
Screech owls often roost in evergreens – dense pines or red cedars.
Screech owls kill prey with their sharp talons, and rip it with their beaks. Indigestible materials like bones, fur, and feathers are regurgitated in pellet form. This is how owl pellets are made.
Nests can be found in tree cavities, woodpecker holes, and man-made nest boxes. No lining is placed in the nest. The incubation period is 20-30 days. Between 3 to 8 eggs are laid.
They don’t screech, but make a hoarse trill, soft purr or a descending wail. They are nocturnal and fearless in defense of their nest.
Screech owls, like great horned and barred owls, are nonmigratory. And, at the northern edge of their range they are far less common.
The “horns” are not their ears, but simply feather tufts that help camouflage the owl. As it perches on a limb, it will pull its feathers close to the body to blend in with the branches.
Most owls have filaments on the tips of their flight feathers which act as mufflers. They fly with complete silence, allowing them to swoop down on their prey undetected.
They can hear lower sounds that humans cannot hear, called infrasounds. Since they hunt at night, this is quite helpful.
Owls are the only birds that blink as humans do, bringing the upper eyelid down. But when they close their eyes to sleep, like all other birds, the lower lid rises to meet the upper.
These birds are the smallest of the “horned” owls. An adult is often mistaken for a baby great horned owl by those not experienced in identifying owls.
In North Carolina, an albino screech owl was spotted. Albino birds often have brittle feathers that wear out sooner than colored feathers. These birds experience difficulty finding mates.
Screech owls have two color forms – gray and red. In the East, a distinctly brown intergrade seems to occur. Some experts refer to these intergrades as phases or color morphs.
Owls are often said to be wise, but a goose or parrot demonstrates much more intelligence. The “wise old owl” association probably sprang up because, like people, their eyes are in the front of their face, giving them a human, and therefore “wise”, appearance. The frontal position of the eyes gives them excellent binocular vision and allows them to accurately judge distances (depth of field) when hunting and flying.
Their eerie cry warns of disaster, disease, or death. As the legend goes, to prevent these bad things from happening, individuals must turn their left shoe upside down, turn their left pants pocket inside out, or throw a piece of iron into the fire.
In the southern United States, a traditional rhyme tells of the cry of the owl:
When you hear the screech owl, honey, in the sweet gum tree, It’s a sign as sure as you’re born a death is bound to be; Unless you put the shovel in the fire mighty quick, For to conjure that old screech owl, take care the one’s that sick.
Few people recognize the value of standing dead trees. Where dead trees have been left standing there is commonly a gathering of summer tanagers, redheaded woodpeckers, bluebirds, and screech owls. In the United States, 85 species of birds and 45 species of mammals use tree cavities.
Screech owls are beneficial predators to the environment because of their diet.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
The first screech owl arrived at the Zoo on May 24, 1973.