Eastern Screech-Owl

Megascops asio

Infrequently Seen

Eastern Screech-Owls are year-round residents in the Washington metro area, but they are infrequently seen at Monticello Park. They are cavity nesters, and some area parks put up boxes in which they can roost and nest.

Where to See Them in the Park

Eastern Screech-Owls are nocturnal, so any seen in the park during the day are usually roosting in a hole. One way to tell if a screech-owl is around is to listen for agitated songbirds, who often mob the owl in a manner similar to the way crows mob larger owls.

Physical Description

Eastern Screech-Owl
Gray-phase - Photo by Michael Pollack

Screech-Owls are about the size of a starling, but broader. They have ear tufts which are made of feathers and have nothing to do with hearing. The sexes look the same, and the plumage of adults looks the same all year. A gray-phase Eastern Screech-Owl once roosted in a hole in a tree near the front of Monticello.

Eastern Screech-Owl
Red-phase - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Screech-Owl
Red-phase - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Screech-Owl
Red-phase - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Screech-Owls have three color phases: gray, brown, and red. A phase is a frequent variation in color that occurs within a particular species that is not an indication of racial difference.


Screech-owls have a lot of vocalizations, but their most familiar one is a descending whinny. Many birders have learned to imitate this call, because it is an effective way to attract small songbirds, similar to spishing.

Hear the vocalizations of the Eastern Screech-Owl.


Eastern Screech-Owls often mate for life. Because they nest in holes and are nocturnal, the nests can be difficult to locate. They sometimes will eat starlings, and starlings sometimes displace screech-owls from nest holes.

Origin of Names

Common Name: Eastern to distinguish them from a similar species in western North America. Screech from its call. Owl from the Old English ule, which sounds like call.
Genus Name: Megascops from the Greek for great little eared owl.
Species Name: Asio is Latin for eared owl.

Eastern Screech-Owl video footage

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