Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) are one of the most widely distributed North American owls. They live east of the Rocky Mountains, from the Canadian boreal forests to near Mexico. They often nest near humans, which has made them one of the most thoroughly studied species of owls in the world.
So, where do Eastern screech owls live?
Eastern Screech Owls live in southern Canada and most of the USA east of the Rocky Mountains, stretching westward through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas, east to New England and the Atlantic Coast, and south to the Gulf States and northeast Mexico.
These widely distributed owls live in woodlands, parks, and rural and suburban areas. They’re the most common raptor across their range and aren’t as rare to spot as other owls due to their closer proximity to human settlements. Easter Screech owls are also happy to nest in backyards and disused human structures, and may even use nesting boxes.
As always, there’s much more to learn about these common owls - read on to find out where they live and where to look for them!
Eastern Screech Owls occupy mainly woodland areas, in eastern parts of the US and Canada
Eastern Screech owls are common throughout North America and northern Mexico. They breed as far north as Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, southwest Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, the northern Great Plains, and New England, west to Colorado, Kansas, and east of the Rocky Mountains.
The southernmost portion of their range covers Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and the Gulf States. Small numbers breed in northeastern Mexico from Coahuila to southeastern San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas.
Parts of their range overlap with the Western Screech owl, particularly in the Great Plains region and the Chihuahuan Desert.
Eastern Screech Owl perched on a branch at night
As the name suggests, Eastern screech owls are most abundant in the eastern half of the USA.
They live in every state west of the Great Plains; the western fringe of their range covers eastern Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and the southern fringe covers the southern, southeastern, and Gulf States, as well as northeast Mexico.
Eastern Screech owls occupy southern Ontario, Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and Quebec. Saskatchewan is the westernmost region of their Canadian range. Most are distributed in southern Ontario.
Eastern Screech Owl perched on a snow-covered log
Like many owls, Eastern Screech owls occupy forests with tree cover. Favored habitats include deciduous or mixed woodlands. Older forests are generally preferred due to the higher proportion of dead snags with suitable nesting cavities.
In addition, they nest at relatively low elevations of 1,500m or below.
Eastern Screech owls also occupy rural and suburban habitats, parks, and fields and are known to nest in closer proximity to humans than other owls.
In fact, some studies in Texas and New York suggest that Eastern Screech owls prefer rural and suburban habitats to deeply forested areas. They’ve even been found nesting in factories and on the top of streetlights.
By learning to hunt prey present in cities, such as house mice and house sparrows, they’re one of few owl species worldwide that have adapted well to human settlements.
Eastern Screech Owl, resting inside of the nesting hole during the day, Quebec, Canada
Like virtually all owls, Eastern Screech owls are elusive creatures that are likely heard rather than seen. However, due to their propensity to nest in close proximity to humans, they’re one of the more commonly sighted owl species.
But even then, at just 9 inches tall or so, this relatively small owl is still pretty tough to spot, and you’d be lucky to see one - even if there’s one nesting in your backyard!
Eastern Screech owls are one of the most common owls in the eastern half of the US and much of southeastern Canada. As nocturnal birds with superb camouflage, they’re tough to spot, and you’d be lucky to catch one with the naked eye.
But, if you head out at dusk to an urban or suburban area where you’ve heard owl calls before, you might have a chance of catching one of these nocturnal hunters swooping in for their evening meal on dimly lit streets.
Eastern Screech owl perched on a tree branch during the night- Red Phase (Northern)
Like virtually all owls, Eastern Screech owls are nocturnal and only come out at night. In summer, when the nights are shorter, you might catch them hunting at dusk when the sun has just about gone down.
However, for the most part, these owls surface only in the dead of night.
Eastern Screech owls are sedentary and don’t migrate.
They only disperse from their natal range in the event of serious food shortages, bad weather, habitat destruction, etc. Otherwise, they’re quite content to establish territories near where they were born and grew up.
Eastern Screech owl well camouflaged inside a tree hole - Gray Phase, Texas
These hardy birds remain in their territories throughout winter. They don’t migrate, even at the furthest north of their range in Canada.
By sheltering in tree hollows and natural cavities, Eastern Screech owls safely survive the winter without needing to move too far from their nests. Paired couples roost together in the same hollow to share body heat.
Eastern Screech owls don’t migrate and occupy the same territories in summer as they do in winter.
These sedentary birds remain in the same territories for most of their lives and don’t disperse far from their natal range. In other words, they’re content to remain in the same regions as where they were born and don’t migrate.
Close up of a Eastern Screech owl
Adult Eastern Screech owls are solitary outside of the breeding season, where they pair with a mate. Pair bonds are long-lasting.
Other than that, these owls aren’t sociable and don’t join together in groups, except for juveniles, who are sometimes spotted in small groups.
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