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The Owls of North Dakota

Eastern Screech Owl
Otus asio

JPG -- Picture of Species

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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