Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The Owls of North Dakota
Eastern Screech Owl
The eastern screech owl, which looks like a miniature great horned owl, is our
only small owl with ear tufts. It stands 7-10 inches tall with a wingspan of 1
1/2 to 2 feet and may be red-brown or gray in color. The gray phase is most common
in North Dakota. The screech owl is found throughout eastern North America, from
southern Canada to northwest Mexico. It is common in a wide variety of habitats,
including small woodlots, forests, swamps, orchards, parks, and suburban gardens.
The screech owl is more closely associated with man's activities than other owls,
perhaps due to the abundance of prey, numerous nesting and roosting sites, and
reduced competition which is made available to this small owl in urban areas.
The eastern screech owl prefers to nest in tree cavities, usually without
nesting material. The male provides food for the female while she is incubating,
but both parents feed the young. The adults may dive at and even strike intruders
near the nest.
The eastern screech owl is strictly nocturnal. It hunts shortly after dusk,
flying over meadows and treetops. It catches primarily mice and insects, but
will also eat pocket gophers, crayfish, snakes, frogs, fish, and small birds.
It is best located and identified by its voice, which is not actually a screech,
but a series of mournful, quavering whistles descending in pitch. It is heard
most often in the spring and fall.
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