Maryland Birds

Eastern Screech Owl
(Megascops asio )

Description and Range

Eastern screech owls are relatively small owls, clocking in at less than 9 inches in height. They have large heads with distinctive ear tufts that set them apart from the smallest eastern owl, the northern saw-whet owl. Eastern screech owls have 2 color morphs- a red form and a gray form. No other owl in the East is red. The color and banding patterns on the owls provide camouflage against tree bark.

Eastern screech owls can be found throughout the eastern United States and parts of northern Mexico year round. They also are common throughout Maryland.

Red and gray morphs by DickDaniels

Red and gray morphs by DickDaniels ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Typical screech owl habitat includes deciduous woodlands, shade trees, and residential areas. Eastern screech owls prefer areas with large, dead trees that can be used for nesting. Eastern screech owls will also use nest boxes. For more information on how to create one, please check out our Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box page.


Eastern screech owls consume small birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, worms, insects, and crayfish. The eastern screech owl will eat mice, rats, moles, and rabbits as well as finches, doves, and more. Occasionally, the eastern screech owl will cannibalize other screech owls or the smaller northern saw-whet owls.

By Zach from Gamboa, Panama - Screech Owl 02, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Juvenile screech owl photo By Ianare Eastern screech owls breed from mid-March to mid-May. They often form monogamous pairs that mate for life, though sometimes a male will take more than 1 female partner. Screech owls don’t make nests, rather they occupy cavities in trees and will make use of whatever materials are in the cavity such as wood chips or an old nest.

Eastern screech owls lay 2-6 white eggs which take just over a month of incubation. Upon hatching, the owls emerge fluffy and white. It takes the nestlings around another month to mature enough to leave the nest. Competition among siblings can sometimes be fierce and can result in loss of one or more of the chicks. The male will hunt for the female and nestlings. The female will tear up the food for their young.


Eastern screech owls are mostly active at night. They primarily hunt from the trees, waiting for prey to pass by before pouncing on it. Males will defend territories with nest locations while caring for the female on the nest. The pair will often renest in the same location year after year.


Eastern screech owls make 2 distinct calls- a loud, descending whinny or an even-pitched trill. Both sexes will make calls. The whinny is usually used to defend territories while the trill is used by pairs or families. Mated pairs may sing to each other both during the day and at night.

Did You Know?

The oldest known eastern screech owl was over 14 years old! Eastern screech owls eat many songbirds including European starlings. Interestingly enough, the European starlings will occasionally evict screech owls from nest sites.

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