The highly adaptable Easter Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is common throughout eastern USA, southeastern Canada, and parts of northern Mexico. A small owl measuring just 9 inches tall or so, this elusive creature is more likely to be heard rather than seen.
This is a complete guide to Eastern Screech owl nesting, including location, habitat, egg laying, and more!
Eastern Screech owls are cavity nesters that prefer natural cavities in dead snags and tree hollows. They are one of a few species of owls that nest in human-made nesting boxes when available. Nests are simple and rarely contain any sort of lining.
These small owls form strong lifelong pair bonds, and they raise young cooperatively, with the female handling incubation and brooding duties while the male hunts and delivers food.
Young owls depend on their parents for several weeks and won’t gain full independence until after the end of the breeding season.
Of course, there is much more to learn about the nesting habits of this fascinating owl species - read on to discover more!
Eastern Screech Owl Owlet looking out of the nesting cavity
Eastern Screech Owls' natural nest sites range from dead or dying trunks and stumps to old woodpecker and squirrel nests, particularly those of the Red-cockaded woodpecker, Northern flickers, and Red-headed woodpeckers.
Eastern Screech Owls may sometimes seize woodpecker nests when they’re still being built, and will hiss at the woodpeckers to force them away.
Eastern screech owls live in southern Canada and the USA east of the Rocky Mountains. The westernmost portion of their range is Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas, and the southernmost portion stretches south to the Gulf States and northeast Mexico.
Their preferred habitats are deciduous or mixed forests with medium to low tree cover. Easter Screech owls prefer rural and suburban habitats with lower tree cover in some regions. They often nest in human structures such as telegraph poles, atop streetlights, and derelict or abandoned buildings.
Like most owls, they prefer natural nesting cavities which are premade - they cannot excavate their own nest. Studies show a preference for cavities around 25cm deep with small entrances of around 15cm or less. The internal area - or floor size - averages around 100cm2.
Eastern Screech Owl resting inside of the nest cavity, inside of a tree
Eastern Screech owls are non-migratory, sedentary birds that remain in the same territories throughout much of the year. That doesn’t mean that they’ll nest in the same tree hollow - they tend to find a new hollow available in their breeding territory.
Eastern Screech owls aren’t as averse to human settlements as other owls. They commonly nest in rural, suburban, and even urban settlements, either by finding a tree in the backyard to nest in or by nesting in a bird box.
Owl nesting boxes are fairly large, as you might imagine, and are an excellent way to support owls and other larger cavity-nesting birds.
Eastern Screech owls are among the most likely to use nesting boxes. From around February to March, these birds begin establishing breeding territories and locating nesting sites. They’ll happily take to larger back garden nesting boxes, providing they’re sufficiently large to support them.
You can buy owl nesting boxes or build them yourself, ensuring the entrance is no larger than 15cm or so and the total depth is less than around 30cm. Place them 10 to 30 ft above the ground, and don’t place two boxes within half a mile of each other.
Nesting Eastern Screech Owl peeking out of a nest box
Eastern Screech owls generally prefer the trees of deciduous or mixed forests. However, they’re one of the least fussy species of owls and show no real preference for trees, so long as they’re reasonably large (as they nest at heights of 10 to 30 ft) and have a suitable cavity.
Common tree choices for nesting Eastern Screech Owls include oaks, elms, sycamores, willows, maples, and apples, or occasionally firs and pines in mixed forests.
Eastern Screech owls generally prefer to be quite high up, around 2 to 6m (6.5 to 20ft) on average, but extending up to 15m (50fr) in some scenarios. So if you’re placing an owl nesting box, aim for a height of 10 to 30ft.
Eastern Screech Owl nesting inside of a pine tree, Florida
Eastern Screech owl nests have virtually no aesthetic qualities. They simply pick a cavity or hole and nest in it. They don’t line the inside of the nest either, though nests are often filled with some sort of debris already.
Eastern Screech owls are small, measuring just 9 inches tall or so. Their nests aren’t very big, measuring around 25cm deep with small entrances of around 15cm or less. The internal floor size averages around 100cm2, so 10 x 10cm.
Two recently hatched Eastern Screech Owl chicks inside of the nest
In around February to March, male Eastern Screech owls begin establishing territories and courting females if they’re not already paired. In warmer regions, this occurs earlier - in Texas, courting has rarely occurred as early as December.
In warmer regions like Texas, eggs are laid early to mid-April. Further north, late April to late May is more common. Late clutches have been recorded in August, but this is rare.
Interestingly, owls living in suburbia generally lay their eggs sooner, probably because it’s milder and wetter via the urban heat island effect, which describes why towns and cities are warmer than the surrounding area.
In one study, birds laying eggs in suburbia would lay up to a month sooner than those just a few miles away in rural areas.
In the winter, Eastern Screech owls don’t ‘nest’ as such. Instead, they roost in trees or retreat into hollows if the weather is particularly cold or harsh.
Pairs often huddle together in cavities to share warmth.
Eastern Screech Owl fledgling perched on a branch
Eastern Screech owls don’t build their nests. Instead, the female selects a nesting cavity in the male’s territory.
There’s no building process involved. Unlike many other cavity-nesting birds, Eastern Screech owls don’t bother to line the interior of the nest. Instead, the female lays her eggs on whatever is there already.
The female selects the nesting cavity from sites on the male’s territory, but there’s no nest-building process as such. Instead, the female simply lays her eggs on whatever is inside the nesting cavity.
Eastern Screech Owl inside of a nest box
Eastern Screech Owl eggs are white or creamy with a subtle gloss. Eggs laid in wet nests are sometimes discolored with brown streaks. They measure around 35.5 x 30mm.
The average clutch is 3 to 4 eggs, most commonly 3. However, in some situations, the female may lay up to 7 eggs, including replacement eggs.
The female incubates the eggs alone, which takes up to 32 or even 34 days.
The male feeds the female later in the incubation process, but she may leave the nest to capture food if the temperature is safely high.
Eastern Screech Owl coming back to the nest to feed hungry chick
Young Eastern Screech owls have a nestling period of around 28 days.They begin to fledge shortly after, typically shuffling their way to a nearby tree.
They can’t fly for another 2 to 3 days and remain under the close protection of their parents, who continue to feed them.
Fledgling Eastern Screech owls remain dependent on their parents for as long as three months. After that, their parents will continue to feed them as they grow through the juvenile stage and are ready to disperse to establish territories of their own in the next breeding season.
Eastern Screech owls raise just one brood per year. This is partly down to the long time required to raise their chicks.
They incubate eggs for around a month, and then the chicks remain in the nest for another month, and it’s not until another two or three months after that that the chicks gain independence. After that, there’s no time for them to raise more than one brood.
Two young Eastern Screech Owl Owlets looking out of the nesting hole
Eastern Screech owls are small, but they’re highly territorial and won’t hesitate to hiss at predators in and around their nesting cavities. They will only abandon their nests in the event of total nest failure, e.g., the nest is raided by a predator, and eggs are destroyed or waterlogged.
Eastern Screech owls don’t nest on the ground. Instead, they select cavities at a height of around 10 to 30ft.
They nest in nearby trees, or in the winter, they sometimes huddle with their mate in cavities.
Eastern Screech owls can be supported with bird boxes. Ensure the entrance is around 15cm wide and that there’s around 20 to 30 cm of maximum depth with a floor area of 100cm (e.g., 10 x 10cm).
You can buy nesting boxes for these owls and other cavity nesters.
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