Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl

Megascops kennicottii
L 7.5-9.5" / WS 21-24"

The Western Screech-Owl is a small, nocturnal owl. Until recently it was considered the same species as the Eastern Screech-Owl. Western Screech-Owl and the gray-morph of the Eastern Screech-Owl are nearly identical in appearance (the red-morph Eastern Screech-Owl differs in color). The best way to tell the two species apart besides location is the thicker streaks on the chest and paler bill of Eastern Screech-Owl. Whiskered Screech-Owl is also very similar to Western Screech-Owl but Whiskered has darker orange eyes, and a yellowish bill. Western Screech-Owl is plump in stature and slightly larger than an American Robin. They are quite common, but because they are secretive and well camouflaged, they are not often seen. Western Screech-Owls are difficult to find, but are sometimes given away by scolding songbirds.

Western Screech-Owls reside in open forests (typically at lower elevations) of the western United States, westernmost Canada, and south to Central America. Besides open forest, they are also found in and suburban parks, golf courses, and residential areas. They nests in tree cavities (made by other birds, i.e. woodpeckers), man-made nest boxes, or other cavities. Like most owls, they do not add nesting material to the nest. Western Screech-Owl hunts by sitting and waiting for prey, such as mice, to come into view. They also eat small birds, worms, small snakes, and insects (including catching flying insects), and other small animals. Western Screech-Owls may migrate short distances, but many stay on territory year-round. When mating, they make a steady trill followed by a bouncing trill, or a series of whistled hoots. When agitated, they make a dog-like bark.


  • Perched, appear stocky with broad body and head, and somewhat short tail.
  • Have two small "ear" tufts not always held upright.
  • In flight, wings are broad and rounded at tips. Tail is short, giving a stocky, blunt-headed silhouette.


  • Flies with very rapid, silent wing beats.
  • Flies for short periods, normally just tree to tree.
  • Flies less often on windy nights.


  • Mottled gray overall with dark streaks on chest and head, and well defined blackish facial disk.
  • Bright yellow cat-like eyes and pale bill (Flammulated Owl has blackish eyes).
  • Juvenile similar to adult.


  • Most do not migrate, but some move short distances.
  • More migratory in northern areas of its range, but no real concentration known to exist.


(Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds. For dynamic distribution maps, visit the eBird website.)

Western Screech Owl map