Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio)
Adult Red and Grey Phases
Fledgling (red morph)

The Owl Foundation receives more Eastern Screech Owls each year than any other owl species (30 - 50 birds). This is because the Screech Owl is a very common species throughout the southern regions of eastern Canada and has a tendency to frequent urban areas. Nest trees are regularly felled in spring by storms or people, leaving orphaned owlets hungry and cold. Adults are often hit by cars while hunting near roads (there are more mice near the roads because of garbage in ditches) and survivors commonly incur permanent eye or neurological injuries deeming them unreleasable. Unfortunately, many of these casualties also leave behind families.

Screech Owls fall into two general colour morphs: grey and red. However, there are intermediate brown colour phases. Like the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), this colouration is genetic (the red allele being recessive and grey dominant) and permanent. Owls do not switch between morphs through their lives.

Screech Owls are often confused as young Great Horned Owls because both species boast conspicuous ear tufts. There are a few differences to look for though:

  1. Screeches have bone coloured beaks. Great Horned Owls, even babies, will have black beaks.
  2. Adult Screech Owls reach a maximum size of about 6 inches in height (or about 9 inches in length). They have adult plumage complete with variations of brown, black and white feathers. Nestling Screech owls are smaller and fuzzy. They have greyish down feathers all over their bodies, regardless of their eventual colour phase (see above).

    Great Horned Owl babies also have fuzzy natal down all over their bodies but will be well beyond the size of your average adult Screech Owl just a few weekd after hatching (see below). By the time a young Great Horned Owl begins growing its adult feathers, it is much much larger than a Screech Owl.

    Side by side it is easy to see the difference between an adult Eastern Screech Owl and a nestling Great Horned Owl. Notice the soft natal down feathers of the Horned Owl in contrast to the grey adult plumage of the Screech.

Screech Owls are rarely seen by visitors to the Foundation. As one of Canada's smaller owl species, this is not too surprising. Their mottled and barred feathering camouflages their slender, stretched bodies as they imitate trees. Some prefer to spend daylight hours hidden in roost boxes and are rarely even seen by staff.


This owl probably gets its name from the screeching call it gives when scared, but may come from its typical whinnying vocalization. This typical courtship call resembles the "hoooOOOooo" people reserve for ghostly sounds. A low, resonating territorial trill often accompanies a series of whinnies. Eastern Screech Owls will also produce single (and rarely multiple) hoots when surprised. Nestlings reap for food.

The Western Screech Owl is virtually identical to the Eastern. The former has a darker beak and an accelerating courtship call very dissimilar from that of the latter.


This is the typical courtship call given by adult owls. Most often given in spring, it is also used throughout winter.

A call sometimes heard during handling.

  Usually produced between whinnies.
Territorial Trill

Rarely given in series - a typical hoot.

  This strange noise is produced by only a few Screeches when they are approached too closely.

Given as a result of hungry stomachs.
Nestling Food Cry

Defensive scare tactic produced by snapping the tongue against the roof of the mouth. All owls seem to clack.

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Owl vocalizations recorded by Kara Kristjanson.
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