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HARIN COUNTY FREE LIBRARY

31111005162985

Owls of
North America
lie

Paintings

and Drawings by Karl E.Karalns


Text byAllai lWEckert

All the Species and Subspecies Illustrated in Color and Full) Des< ribed

The Owls of
North America
1*iii

ii

u;s. ii

Drawings In Karl

K Kara lus

TextbyAIlaiiWEcken

"Owls are marvelous

"They are incredible

birds."
in the acute-

and

ness of their senses of sight

hearing and remarkable


ability to fly

ness.

They

in

their

with utter soundless-

are admirable in their

and courage, and always

ferocity

fascinating in their habits."


"Yet, because owls are essentially

birds of the night and, thus, far less

often seen than birds of the day,

they are also decidedly creatures


"

of mystery

With these words from the


troduction to

In-

The Owls of North

America, Allan

\V.

Eckert explains

the enduring fascination of these


beautiful birds.
lie

and the

And

artist,

in

this

book,

Karl E. Karalus,

introduce you to the owls of our


continent with a detailed vividness

never attained before. In text and


160 illustrations they depict every
species and subspecies of the

owl family and describe

nificent

features, markings,

Where

its

and habits.

possible, they provide close-

up descriptions
and

mag-

life

of

the daily routine

cycle of each owl, includ-

ing hunting methods, nesting habits

and courtship mating and incubation rituals.

The Owls of Norn


I

h A merica

superb combination of

scientific

iCCUracy and high artistic


les

the portraits of
(continiK

d on back

is

all

flap)

fidelity.

subspc-

Karalus, Karl L.
Owls of North America
598.97 KARALUS

CENTRAL LIBRARY

(Ovrrlen\)
>tUS luflsi
'

inty,

XIII

si

kn

ONG-EARED

OWL

Godfrey. Male. Vicinity of Miles Citv. Custer

Montana, March

30, 1902.

A.O.U. Number 366

OF NORTH AMERICA

Books Illustrated by Karl E. Karalus

WILD SEASON

THE CROSSBREED

HOME

LIFE OF

AMERICAN BIRDS

THE OWLS OF NORTH AMERICA

Books Written by Allan W. Eckert

THE GREAT AUK

THE SILENT SKY


A TIME OF TERROR

WILD SEASON

THE DREAMING TREE


THE FRONTIERSMEN
BAYOU BACKWATERS

THE KING SNAKE


WILDERNESS EMPIRE
IN SEARCH OF A

WHALE

BLUE JACKET

THE CONQUERORS
THE CROSSBREED
INCIDENT AT HAWK'S HILL

THE COURT-MARTIAL OF DANIEL BOONE


THE OWLS OF NORTH AMERICA

rzre ows
OF NORTH AMERICA
(NORTH OF MEXICO)
All the Species and Subspecies Illustrated in
Color and Fully Described

%
fcv

'

ill

PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS BY

f\arl. Karalus
TEXT BY

^AllanW.Eckert
DOUBLEDAY

&

COMPANY,

INC.,

1974

GARDEN

CITY,

NEW YORK

DESIGN BY

M FRANKLIN PI.YMPTON

isbn: 0-385-O8758-6
I

IHK\RY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 73-83629


ig?3 by Karl E. Karalus and Allan W. Eckert

Copyright

\I

PRINTED

IN

I.

RIGHTS RESERVED

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

FIRST EDITION AFTER

THE

[KITED EDITION OF 25O COPIES

\M) COLLECTOR'S EDITIONS

For

their

many years

of

unstinting effort
in every conceivable

manner

on our behalf,
the authors

dedicate this book

with heartfelt appreciation

and deepest
to

HELEN

love

our wives,

C.

KARALUS

AND

JOAN

D.

ECKERT

Gontents

Color Plates

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL (OtUS

ix

Acknowledgments
Introduction

inyoensis)

xi

132

kennicott's screech

xiii

kennicottii)

barn owl (Tyto alba pratincola)

northern barred owl

(Strix varia varia)

20

owl (Strix varia georgica)


texas barred owl (Strix varia helveola)

32

Florida barred

California spotted
occidentalis)

owl

caurina )

lucida)

asio

asio

137

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCREECH OWL (OtUS


maxwelliae )

35

{Strix occidentalis

asio mccallii)

PASADENA SCREECH OWL (OtUS

(Strix occidentalis

(Strix occidentalis

140

asio

142

guadalupe screech owl (Otus

43

asiO

39

texas screech owl (Otus


quercinus)

Mexican spotted owl

(Otus

135

macfarlanei)

37

northern spotted owl

owl

macfarlane's screech owl (Otus

asio

asio suttoni)

144

Nebraska screech owl (Otus

asio swenki)

145

yuma screech owl

yumanensis)

146

whiskered owl (Otus trichopsis trichopsis)


ARIZONA WHISKERED OWL (OtUS trichopsis

149

(Otus

asio

45

great gray owl

saw-whet owl

(Strix nebulosa nebulosa)

(Aegolius acadicus acadicus)

queen charlotte owl


brooksi)

Richardson's

48
56

{Aegolius acadicus

flammeolus)

owl

(Aegolius funereus

cunicularia hypugaea)

long-eared owl (Asio otus wilsonianus)

WESTERN LONG-EARED OWL

72

80

(Asio OtUS tuftsi)

owl

cunicularia floridana)

whitneyi)

(Otus

asio aikeni)

98
1

snowy owl

19

120

American

(Nyctea scandiaca)

hawk owl

caparoch)

brewsteri)

cineraceus)

Florida screech

asio

californicum)

124

owl

(Otus

saguaro screech owl (Otus

asio floridanus)
asio gilmani)

hasbrouck's screech owl (Otus


hasbroucki)

131

asio

(Surnia ulula

ROCKY MOUNTAIN PYGMY OWL (Glaucidium


gnoma pinacola) 204
California pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma

asio

123

Mexican screech owl (Otus

185

195

121

brewster's screech owl (Otus

174

177
(Micrathene whitneyi idonea)

texas elf owl

asio naevius)

SOUTHERN SCREECH OWL (OtUS OSW asio)


CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL (OtUS asio
bendirei)

163

Whitney's elf owl (Micrathene whitneyi

83

eastern screech owl (Otus

(SpeotytO

FLORIDA BURROWING OWL (SpeotytO

short-eared owl (Asio flammeus

aiken's screech

156

WESTERN BURROWING OWL

66

flammeus)

154

flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus

64

richardsoni)

asperus)

126
128

Arizona pygmy

gnoma)

owl

210
(Glaucidium gnoma

21

coast pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma


grinnelli)

212

183

51

Vancouver pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma


swart hi)

tundra horned owl (Bubo


wapacuthu)

214

virginianus

260

ferruginous owl (Glaucidium brasilianum


216

ridgwayi )

Comparison Tables

cactus owl (Glaucidium brasilianum


cactorum)

Comparison Table

222

Relative Size of North

American Owl Species

great horned owl (Bubo virginianus


virginianus)
st.

224

michael horned owl (Bubo


algistus)

virginianus

244

Labrador horned owl (Bubo virginianus


heterocnemis)

246

virginianus lagophonus)

248

Montana horned owl (Bubo


occidentalis)

pacific

virginianus

250
virginianus

252
virginianus

pallescens)

253
dusky horned owl (Bubo virginianus

254

Ontario horned
arctic horned

Maximum

257

Weight

262

Average Weight

Comparison Table 6

Maximum Total Length 263


Minimum Total Length 263
Maximum Wingspan 263
Minimum Wingspan 263
Maximum Individual Wing

Minimum Weight

Comparison Table 8
Comparison Table 9
Comparison Table o
1

263

Minimum

Individual

12

Comparison Table 13
Comparison Table 14

Terms

Maximum Tail Length


Minimum Tail Length
Maximum Beak Length
Minimum Beak Length

265

Bibliography of Principal Sources

274

Wing

264

Comparison Table

Index

263

264

Comparison Table

Glossary of
virginianus

262

Comparison Table 4
Comparison Table 5

virginianus

257

owl (Bubo

subarcticus)

Comparison Table

owl (Bubo

scalariventris)

Comparison Table

Length

western horned owl (Bubo

saturatus)

Average Egg Size

Length

horned owl (Bubo

pacificus)

Comparison Table

NORTHWESTERN HORNED OWL (Bubo

262

Comparison Table

268

264
264
264
264

Golor Elates
(Plates appear after page

barn owl

Tyto alba pratincola)

northern barred owl


varia
hi

Florida barrlu

owl

NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL


MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
great gray owl
nebulosa)

IX

xxvi

22

XXVII

XXVHI

XXIX

acadicus)

XXX

38

acadicus brooksi)
XI

Richardson's

owl

XII

WESTERN LONG-EARED OWL

XVI

aiken's screech

54

70

OWL

(OtUS

xxxix

70

brewster's screech owl (Otus


70

floridanus)

asio

xli

86

(OtUS

asio

trichopsis

134

ARIZONA WHISKERED

OWL

(OtUS
134

flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus


134

WESTERN BURROWING OWL


FLORIDA BURROWING

(SpeOtytO

OWL

XLII

134

(SpeotytO

150

Whitney's elf owl (Micrathene


whitn eyi

150

texas elf owl (Micrathene

snowy owl
American

w hitneyi

150

(Nyctea scandiaca)

hawk owl

caparoch)

70

OWL

OSXO

118

whiskered owl (Otus

idonea)

asio

xl

MEXICAN SCREECH OWL (OtUS


FLORIDA SCREECH

YUMA SCREECH OWL (OtUS

w hitneyi

aSlO

asio

118

cunicularia floridana)

asio

xxxviii

CALIFORNIA SCREECH

118

NEBRASKA SCREECH OWL (OtUS

cunicularia hypugaea)

asio

southern screech owl (Otus

cineraceus)

XXI

(Otus

XXXVII

brewsteri)

XX

XXXVI

owl

GUADALUPE SCREECH OWL (OtUS OSW

flammeolus)

asio

54

bendirei)

XIX

54

EASTERN SCREECH OWL (OtUS

asio
XVIII

xxxv

asio

118

trichopsis asperus)

short-eared owl (Asio flammeus

aikeni)
XVII

XXXIV

Endpapers

naevius)

102

trie hop sis)

(Asio OtUS

asio

PASADENA SCREECH OWL (OtUS

yumanensis)
xxxiii

38

flammeus)

XV

XXXII

102

TEXAS SCREECH OWL (OtUS

swenki)

LONG-EARED OWL (Asio OtUS

tuftsi)

XIV

38

38

wilsonianus)
XIII

XXXI

(Aegolius funereus

richardsoni)

102

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCREECH OWL (OtUS

suttoni)

queen charlotte owl (Aegolius

asio

102

quercinus)

(Aegolius acadicus

(Otus

macfarlane's screech owl (Otus

mccallii)

(Strix nebulosa

22

saw-whet owl

owl

kennicott's screech

asio maxwelliae)

22

86

asio inyoensis)

asio macfarlanei)

22

asio

86

kennicottii)

(Strix

occidentalis lucida)

vm

(Otus

(Strix

occidentalis caurina)
VII

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL

(Strix

occidentalis occidentalis)
VI

XXrV

xxv

OWL

86

hasbrouck's screech owl (Otus

(Strix varia

CALIFORNIA SPOTTED

asio

xxiii

hasbroucki)

helveola)

saguaro screech owl (Otus


gilmani)

(Strix varia

texas barred owl

xxn

(Strix varia

georgica )
rv

number)

150

(Surnia ulula

166

ROCKY MOUNTAIN PYGMY OWL


(Glaucidium gnoma pinacola)

166

PYGMY OWL (GldUcidium

XLIII

CALIFORNIA

xliv

Arizona pygmy

gnoma

xlv
xlvi

xlvh

californicum)

owl

gnoma gnoma) 166


coast pygmy owl (Glaucidium
gnoma grinnelli) 182
Vancouver pygmy owl (Glaucidium
gnoma swart hi) 182
ferruginous owl (Glaucidium

xllx

ST.

LI

Lrv

pacific

horned owl (Bubo

pacificus

LV

198
virginianus

1 98

WESTERN HORNED OWL (Bubo


virginianus pallescens)

182

dusky horned owl (Bubo


saturatus)

LVH

198
virginianus

214

ONTARIO HORNED

OWL (Bubo

virginianus scalariventris )
virginianus

Lvni

182

arctic horned

owl (Bubo

subarcticus)

MICHAEL HORNED OWL (Bubo


virginianus algistus)

198

MONTANA HORNED OWL (Bubo


virginianus occidentalis)

182

great horned owl (Bubo


virginianus

LIH

lvi

cactus owl (Glaucidium brasilianum


cactorum)

NORTHWESTERN HORNED OWL (Bubo


virginianus lagophonus)

166

(Glaucidium

brasilianum ridgwayi)
xlviii

LH

LIX

182

virginianus heterocnemis)

182

214

TUNDRA HORNED OWL (Bubo


virginianus

LABRADOR HORNED OWL (Bufco

214

virginianus

wapacuthu)

Frontispiece

Acknowledgments

In a volume of this scope the aid of numerous people,

Curator of Birds and member of the American Ornitho-

becomes neces-

Union Check-list Committee; Dr. Melvin A.


Jr., Associate Curator of Birds; and their
very able assistant, Miss Dianne Maurer.
To Dr. William Beecher, Director, and his staff at the

professional scientists
sary.

and laymen

The authors have been most

alike,

fortunate in receiving

aid in

various ways from a great

many,

in

dividually.

we wish
efforts

to

To

attempt

to

fact,

those

listing

who have been

many
them

people
all

too

here

in-

of such assistance,

acknowledge with sincere appreciation their

on our behalf.

Especially are

logical

Traylor,

Chicago Academy of Sciences, Chicago,


textual materials,

we indebted

to the vast

number

of sci-

been

Their contribution has been of inestima-

possible.

ble value, yet to

or in the text

mention

would be

in

them individually here


one respect a monumental task
all

of

and, in another, a decided distraction to the readability


of this work. Therefore, while principal sources for this

work are

listed at the

back of the book, the authors have

preferred to keep the text

itself

For
tion,

efforts

to

help during the production of this

volume; for their aid and advice

in

such matters as

and

for

his advice

and

assistance in providing informa-

specimens, materials, and

facilities, as

extremely co-operative

staff.

For their cheerful and more than willingly given aid

and advice throughout production of the manuscript


and art, and for their directional comments from both
literary

and

scientific

Dorothy C. Saunders and Dr. George

and presently
For
to

his

in retirement at

superb photographic work on owls as an aid

our project, and for the portrait work done by him

connection with
to

this

Richard Muntjanoff of Aurora,


Finally,

to

September

ig~/2

Illinois.

the entire editorial, art,

and production

staffs of Doubleday & Company, Inc., Publishers, New


York City especially to editor T. O'Conor Sloane III,
art editor Diana Klemin, designers Earl Tidwell and

F.

Plympton, and Virginia Muller,

who

super-

our deepest gratitude

for their extensive assistance in all respects, for their per-

sonal interest in

this

book, for their encouragement,

and, most particularly, for their determination to maintain the highest standards of quality in reproduction of

both art and

text.

KARL
Englewood, Florida

in

volume, our sincere appreciation

numerous preserved specimens, the providing of textual


and facilities, and for
their personal encouragement of us in this project, the
authors express their most profound gratitude to the staff
of the Department of Ornithology, Field Museum of
R. Blake,

Saunders,

Englewood, Florida.

vised the production of the book

Emmet

B.

formerly of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Margaret

Natural History, Chicago, IllinoisDr.

the authors are in-

standpoint,

debted to husband-and-wife ornithological biologists Dr.

evaluation and taxonomy, the loan and identification of

materials, the use of collections

well as for

comments on both artwork and manuscript,


our appreciation to E. J. Koestner, Director of the Dayton Museum of Natural History, Dayton, Ohio, and his

ter

tended

ex-

his helpful

reasonably free of mas-

which is chiefly extraneous or incidental to the text.


There are, however, certain individuals who have contributed large amounts of their time, energy, and scientific knowledge to aid us, and these people in particular
deserve specific recognition. For their continuing ex-

we

matters concerned with the production of this work.

entists, researchers, students, ornithological investigators,

and skilled observers who have, over scores of years,


added to man's knowledge of the owls through their records, reports, and findings. Without the cumulative work
done by these people, published in such ornithological
periodicals as The Auk, Bird Lore, The Condor, The
Wilson Bulletin, Oologist, and others, along with articles,
papers, and books they have written and upon which we
have drawn heavily, a work such as ours would not have

Illinois,

numerous study skins and


their aid and advice in other

press thanks for the use of

E.

KARALUS and ALLAN W. ECKERT

Introduction

Owls are marvelous birds.


They are incredible in the acuteness of their senses of
sight and hearing and remarkable in their ability to fly
with utter soundlessness. They are admirable in their
ferocity and courage and always fascinating in their
habits.

Yet, because owls are essentially birds of the night

thus far

On

also decidedly creatures of mystery.


basis,

a world-wide

probably no other bird throughout the history of

mankind has been

so deeply revered, so greatly feared,

No

so thoroughly respected, or so soundly hated.

bird has been so

much

the subject of superstition

or tragedy; for others

stillbirth

wisdom or prophecy,

frequently

represented

and

it

some
war or death,

fancy. For

has been the symbol

truth or omniscience,
in

emblem,

effigy,

ornament. Even today the "wise old owl"

monly represented

other

fundamentally misunderstood or so

cultures the owl has been the symbol of

of

and

often seen than birds of the day, they are

less

is

and was

and

most

more abundant

as the classification

prominent, familiar, or representative owl of each of


the eighteen species has been selected for major description.

The

subspecies falling under that species des-

ignation are described only insofar as they differ from


the representative subspecies that

is

described in detail.

word about "subspecies" is advisable here. The


and geographic variation are
basically synonymous. Yet, the term "race" has come to
be considered a somewhat looser term than "subspecies,"
which itself has become rather identified with manestablished boundaries which do not necessarily conform

terms race, subspecies,

or

to natural or ecological boundaries. Subspecies are rarely

more com-

constant in coloration, markings, and characteristics in

symbol,

in statuary, posters, art, bookplates,

advertising, architectural design

and these become progressively


is narrowed down
through family, genus, species, and subspecies, repetition was most likely to occur. It was necessary to avoid
this problem, yet without undermining the value of the
description for each subspecies. To do so, the most

similar characteristics

especially

the

same sense that there

termination.

are

a constancy to species de-

is

The geographic

variations

races

or sub-

bounded

jewelry than any other bird in the world, surpassing

species

even the eagle.

geographic areas. Variation of a species on any conti-

In the preparation of the paintings for

known

this

book,

nent

is

rarely

separable

into

distinctly

almost invariably continuous in smooth clines of

and subspecies of owl on the North


American continent north of Mexico was very closely
studied and. wherever possible, the actual type specimens of the owls were used, i.e., the individual museum bird skins upon which the original descriptions
were based. Often this led to difficulties, especially
where accurate portrayal of the coloration and markings
was concerned. A museum collection of owl skins might
well contain twenty or thirty specimens of the same
subspecies, yet with some birds very dark and others
very light and the remainder in gradations of considerable degree between them. Which bird, then, from this

intergrades

spectrum of choices, should be used to exemplify the

ago may now be part of another species, or themselves


broken into more extensive subspecies. Further, sub-

every

species? In

museum

species

all

cases,

the authors

personnel studied

all

and various helpful

available birds very care-

and then selected as a model what seemed to be


the bird with a plumage most representative of the subspecies to which it belonged. Often this would not be
the type specimen from which the race was originally
fully

siderable

moment when

came

it

to a determination of

which geographical variations should be included in a


book purporting to describe all continental subspecies
of any one order of birds.

The matter

taxonomy is more often than not a


In some cases owls that were
legitimate species, or subspecies, some years
of

decidedly sticky

accepted as

issue.

species continue to be
it

becomes
It

is

difficult to

named and

described and often

keep pace.

new
may

not the province of this book to establish

races of owls, nor to eliminate races

whose

validity

be in question. Rather, after considerable research,


cussion with authorities far

described.

Where

and intermediates and therefore not neatly


some sort of order, the subspecific scientific names become a necessity, however
lacking they may be in the clarity one would hope to
ascribe to them. This in itself was a problem of conseparable. Yet, to establish

more

dis-

able in these matters,

and exhaustive study of specimens from

was concerned there were similar diffiwas important to include all known aspects

America, the authors have included those subspecies (or

of the life histories of each subspecies of the eighteen


North American owl species north of Mexico. Since

reasonably well apart from others. Undoubtedly there

culties.

text

It

owls, as a

scientific

order

(Strigiformes)

have many

races) with characteristics

will

which seem

all

over North

truly to set

them

be some question as to whether this owl or that

should have been included

or, for that

matter, excluded.

Admittedly, the authors are not taxonomists and perhaps, for the purposes of this volume, advantageously
not.

Judgment,

as

a result, has not been

colored or

Mountain Screech Owl is in the genus Otus, the


and the subspecies maxwelliae. This particular bird was first scientifically described by orni-

species asio,

Robert Ridgway. Therefore, under this headwould appear as: Otus asio maxwelliae (Ridg-

thologist

biased for a personal belief, as has sometimes stigmatized

ing

otherwise distinguished works previously published.

way). Following

For the species and subspecies to be included in this


volume, the authors have utilized the most recently

entific description are given. If the

American Ornithological Union Check-list


(The A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds, Fifth

through reclassification or revision of nomenclature, the

published

Edition,

as

1957)
eighteen owl species
in

that Check-list.

the

most

foundation.

reliable

we include are all accepted species


Of the fifty-nine subspecies we in-

which make up those eighteen

clude,

The

are described in the 1957 Check-list.

species, fifty-two

Some

of the seven

that are not will quite likely be included in the

new

A.O.U. Check-list now in preparation. A


possible example is the Ontario Horned Owl (Bubo
which was not devirginianus scalariventris Snyder)
edition of the

scribed until

The

1 96 1.

plate of the owls indicates the place and date where


the specimen owl was taken which the artist used as a
model for accuracy in preparing the paintings for this
book. Many of these, obviously, were birds from museum collections, although a few were collected by the
artist and author while this work was in progress.
As an aid to the lay reader in understanding some of

the possibly unfamiliar anatomical terms used in this

volume, there are three "topographic" owl sketches


upperparts view, underparts view, and side view

In addition, there

with

anatomy and plumage named.

portions of the

These sketches immediately follow


tion.

had previous

is

this

introductory sec-

a Glossary of

Terms

data concerning the original

this,

sci-

owl in question has

names which were abandoned

scientific

most commonly used former name (or names)

will

be

given here.

In some cases
describer

name,
not.

is

This

it

the

of

shown

be noted that the

will

and in other cases it is


and follows the standard nomen-

is

Where

but where

name,

it

the

not given in parentheses,

that the original description of the bird

today;

of the

scientific

in parentheses,

clature practices for scientific naming.

valid

name

appearing after the

bird,

intentional

is

of the describer

scriber's

date and location listing accompanying each color

all visible

it

means

parentheses

it

still

enclose

name
means

remains
the

de-

that the species or subspecies

under discussion has been

reclassified or revised since

the original description of the bird was written.

OTHER NAMES
will be better known in a specific area
name other than its standard English name.
Such a name may be a local name, nickname, regional
name, or foreign name. Under this heading will be listed

Often an owl

by a

in alphabetical order those

names and the reason

for

such designation.

at the

back of the book.

For a more thorough understanding of the


text,

it

will

art

and

be of value to briefly discuss here the use

of the various descriptive headings for each of the

owl discussions

to follow. Naturally,

an order are similar


factor will be

made

major

wherever owls as

FOOT STUDIES OF VARIED OWLS

in habit or physical attribute, this


clear.

what they include are

The headings

themselves and

i.

Barred

Owl

sometimes turn
as follows

ing posture.
2.

Screech

(From subspecies
just

depicting

how middle

one side while the owl

Owl (Otus

for grasping,

COMMON NAME

(Strix varia)
to

asio)

is

toe will

in relaxed perch-

georgica.)

with foot three-quarters open

(From subspecies

prior to striking prey.

naevius.
3.

The most commonly used and generally accepted English name of the subspecies under discussion will be
the one used to designate each of the fifty-nine birds in-

Horned Owl (Bubo

virginianus) in alert standing pose on

more cus(From subspecies occi-

perch, with reversible toe sideways rather than in

tomary rearward-pointing

position.

dentalis.)

Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) individual


(From subspecies pacificus.)

4.

cluded.

5.

Burrowing Owl (Speotyto cunicularia)

in

talon study.

normal ground-

perching posture. (From subspecies floridana.)

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND ORIGINAL

6.

Elf

Owl

(Micrathene

open for grasping prey.

DESCRIPTION

7.

whitneyi)

From

with

foot

one-quarter

subspecies idonea.)

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) with foot

fully

(From subspecies pratincola.)


8. Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) with
coming to perch.

open

for snatching

prey.

Here
scientific

xw

will

be given the genus, species, and subspecies

name

of each owl.

For example, the Rocky

Introduction

foot fully

open

for

Tio^J^^

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

In linear measurements,

all

have been

initially cali-

brated in millimeters, carried to one decimal place. Also

Here

be included the aspects which make

will

particular owl unique

Under
major

and recognizable

heading as

this

well, for

own

this

to conjecture. Is the

based on the weight of the bird? Does

wingspan?

Is

it

in millimeters

have been

the

from inches, one multiplies inches by 25.4; and to get


grams from ounces, one multiplies ounces by 28.35.
However, all calibrations here were initially carried to

only

four decimal places, and the results therefore figure out

comparison

mean

it

the total length of the owl?

one such measurement

measurements

formula of multiplying the number of millimeters by


0.0394 to arrive at the length in inches.
Normally, to reverse the process and get millimeters

maximum size among the eighteen different species.


When one speaks of one owl being larger than another,
open

aid, these

each of the eighteen

all

is

an

transposed to inches through use of the standard basic

its

descriptions, will be listed the owl's rank in over-

the statement

as

right.

in

If

used, the conclusion can be

accurately from millimeters to inches and from grams to

very misleading. For example, although the Great Gray

ounces, but not as accurately so vice versa. For example,

Snowy Owl and Great Horned


body weight. In

the Snowy Owl's average weight in grams is 1,659.8,


which multiplied by 0.035 gi ves a figure of 58.093,
which when reduced to one decimal place gives the

the

weight in ounces as 58.1. Yvt, multiplying 58.1 ounces

Owl
Owl

is

surpasses both the


in total

Great Gray

length,

Owl

in

yet

those latter two surpass the

wingspan and

attempting to resolve

this

matter

in

of relative

size,

authors have discovered that a quite acceptable rank-insize

calibration can be achieved by a simple formula

which

takes

into

consideration

all

weight, total length, and wingspan.

Table

i.)

It

is

through use of

relative rank-in-size

this

three

factors

of

(See Comparison

formula that the

by species has been ascertained.

by the standard figure of 28.35 gives a result of

647.1

grams, thus making the end result in grams appear

in-

The same holds true for linear measurements.


The Snowy Owl's average wingspan is 1,610.6 millimeters, which when multiplied by 0.0394 results in
consistent.

inches or, reduced to one decimal place, 63.5

6345764
inches.

Yet, multiplying 63.5

inches by the standard

conversion figure of 25.4 gives a result of 1,612.9 millimeters, which makes the end result in millimeters ap-

pear inconsistent. Such inconsistencies are, of course,

SHAPE AT REST AND


SHAPE IN FLIGHT

and inches

the result of not carrying the ounces

to six

or seven decimal places, which would serve no useful

purpose here.

which make the particular owl


species recognizable as it is perched or while on the
wing, whether in good light or in silhouette, are described under these headings.

The

characteristics

WEIGHT
All weights indicated are for birds that

(or freshly dead)

FLIGHT PATTERN

were

when weighed. Such weights

alive

are given

in

grams and parenthetically

is

included the average weight for the species as a

in ounces.

For each species

This describes the characteristic movements of wings

and body during

flight

the

undulation or levelness,

the directness or indirectness that the owl in question

normally exhibits while

flying.

HEAD AND SKULL STUDIES OF VARIED OWLS


i.

Head (above) and

asio),

in the other species pictured.

WEIGHT AND MEASUREMENT

2.

CALIBRATIONS

Head (above) and

virginianus)

all

weights have been calibrated in grams, carried to one

decimal place. As an aid, however, to the lay reader

unaccustomed to metric calibrations, all gram weights


have been parenthetically transposed to ounces through

3.

Head

(left)

compared

Owl (Otus

formation than

(From subspecies asio.)


(below) of Horned Owl (Bubo

and

(From subspecies

skull

(right)

of

to the typical

in

virginianus.)

Barn Owl (Tyto alba),

showing elongation of both beak and

skull in this species as

owls also pictured. (From subspecies

pratincola.)
4.

Facial studies of the Great

Horned Owl (Bubo

virginianus

virginianus)

use of the standard basic formula of multiplying the

number

skull

skull

showing greater cranial development than

other species pictured.

Because of the greater accuracy of the metric system,

of Screech

(below)

skull

showing the greater symmetry of

of grams by 0.035 to ar rive at the weight in

Note the difference and asymmetry of the auricular


(ear)

cavities

of

the

cavities are located just

ounces.

Introduction

three

species

depicted.

The

above the jaw hinge on each.

ear

E*

^H^

Wm
v-

ry*\AvS

It

*%*?

<fr6

>'C

s>.

/'WwfcXw-'O

whole,

plus

minimum,

the

EYES AND VISION

and maximum

average,

weights of both male and female birds. Included as well


is

rank in

this particular owl's

maximum

among

weight

Comparison Tables 3, 4, and


maximum, average, and minimum weights

Color of the

irides

and

visual ability of each species

the eighteen species. (See

are noted, as well as any peculiarity, ocular or visual, of

5 for relative

the species.

of

all

eighteen species.)

their vision

The

eyes of

all

owls are most unusual and

remarkable, night or day. Although even

is

North American owls weigh only a fiftieth


of an average-weight man, their eyes are as large as
human eyes. The eyes of humans have smooth muscles,
but the eye muscles of owls are striated fibers which
the largest

provide for amazingly rapid changes in focus.

humans with one plane

unlike

LINEAR MEASUREMENTS

owls have two fovea for simultaneous focus at objects

near and

measurements given under the headings of Total


Length, Wingspan, Individual Wing Length, Tail
All

Length, and Beak Length are given in millimeters, and


parenthetically in inches, based on a stated

measured for

birds

this

number

purpose. Total Length

of

the

is

length of the outstretched bird from tip of beak to end


of

tail.

(See Comparison Tables 6 and

Wingspan

7.)

is

the distance from the outermost outstretched limit of

one

wing

in

straight

line

stretched limit of the other.

8 and

9.

Individual

to

outermost

the

out-

(See Comparison Tables

Wing Length

is

the straight-line

measurement of the individual wing from the carpal


joint

(also called wrist or bend-of-wing)

most

tip

the

of

parison Tables

longest

line length of the

to the outer-

primary feather.

o and 11.) Tail Length

(See

longest extent of the

Com-

the straight-

is

tail,

from the

point where the longest rectrix enters the flesh to

outermost

Beak Length

is

the length of the upper beak, measured

with calipers in a straight

line,

but not including the cere.


14

and

its

(See Comparison Tables 12 and 13.)

limit.

from the

tip to the cere,

(See Comparison Tables

Their eyeballs are

far.

portion of the eye


rest

the

of

eye,

a tube-shaped

set in

or conelike bony structure, and

very large in comparison to the

is

allowing

thus

incredible

for

obstacles during night flight through interlaced branches

of trees, there

an odd, rather comblike organ

is

addition to both upper and lower eyelids,

a nictitating
the Barred

membrane which
Owls

damage during

made

are

that

all

owls have

translucent. (In
is

and some claims

struggles with prey,


it

also acts as a shield against

but evidence to support


is

is

helps protect the eyeball from

from brush while the bird

There

usually

[Strix varia sp.] this "third eyelid"

membrane

opaque.) This

is

flying

this

damage

through heavy cover,

claim

not substantive.

is

an almost complete lack of

ability to roll the

eyeballs in their sockets; thus, to see in different directions or

up and down, the owl must

lower

entire head. In doing so,

its

it

turn,

raise,

often gets into

or

what

consider as being amusing and seemingly im-

specific

which follow

owl headings.

EARS AND HEARING

TALONS

The hearing
This heading includes the specific characteristics

in-

and

volved, such as plumage, markings, color, strength,

should be noted here that

in the

back of the eye which acutely sharpens perception. In

under

It

light-

and light-concentrating ability about 100


times that of the human eye. As a further aid in
detecting prey and, even more particularly, in avoiding

possible positions, further descriptions of

other aspects.

and cornea

the lens

gathering

humans

15.)

LEGS, FEET,

Also,

of focus at a time, the

among

of owls

is

very probably

acute in the animal world.

It

is

among

the most

said, quite likely

with

accuracy, that some species of owls can hear the footfalls

all

owls there are four toes on each foot, two of which


point permanently forward, one of which points per-

manently backward, and a fourth which

may

is

point in either direction or sideways.

reversible

The

and

a close study of over 4,000 photographs of perched


owls where the feet were visible, discovered that 95.90

in

per cent of the owls photographed were perched with

two

forward and two toes backward; 2.17 per cent


were perched with two forward, one backward, and
toes

one sideways; and


three toes forward

xv in

1.93

per cent were perched with

and one backward.

OWL PELLETS

authors,

Feeding habits of owls can be determined quite accurately


by dissection and analysis of regurgitated pellets of undigesti-

found usually

ble material
etc.

sites of owls.

fur, feathers, bones, teeth, claws, chitin, skulls,

at or

near nesting

sites

or favored roosting

Extensive studies have been conducted on tens

of thousands of pellets collected, which were regurgitated by


North American owls, especially Barn Owls, Screech Owls,

and Great Horned Owls.


Introduction

,_

c -f \jc\i Ji'ze

G^-eqT

W/ied "^1 Pc// f


a/o-t

ra<*l*-

,iV'

*
,^
f/<sff<j

on

city /i 5

c?u/f

/v6/e

Alo^tU
1"h5 ^e<*

Pox /?iven

tff.X

^^ ^
n

frCif-

in

floJ-/dc\

fowoc/

CK^sh^

m/^/5
c/

pallets.

Skulls A'oT

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

of a beetle in the grass at a distance of well over ioo

yards and the squeak of a mouse for half a mile.

many

only can they hear well, but in

Not
Although owl-banding programs have increased

cases asymmetri-

and sized ear cavities allow for pinpoint


location of a most remarkable nature
to such extent
that a sightless owl can fly directly to, and grasp with
its talons, prey that it cannot see. For more on this, see
the discussion under this heading for the Barn Owl
(Tyto alba pratincola) and the Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius ac adieus ac adieus). Ear construction and the auditory sense of each species fall under this heading.
cally placed

recent years, there

is

somewhat a dearth

still

in

of infor-

mation for many species

in this respect.

become necessary

on information supplied from

to rely

zoos about their captive birds


rate,

length

of

life,

and

it

has

of death, death

matters

related

and

an indicator,

serves as something of

this

cause

Mostly

while

does not

it

what may actually occur under normal wild conditions. Whatever is known regarding the
mortality and longevity of the owls is included under
necessarily reflect

this

heading for each

species.

It

is

interesting to note

Europe was rather well reported


have
to
lived for 68 years and that another unverified
report noted that one had lived for over ioo years. The

that a captive owl in

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

MOLT

first

Not all owls have ear tufts, which are simply erectile
head feathers and have nothing whatever to do with
the sense of hearing.
tufts

altogether possible; the second

doubtful but

is

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT AND JUVENILE

these

material included under this heading, along with

is

information regarding plumages and the annual

specific

molt that

is

undergone by

An

lesser degree.
flight

Whether or not they have

is

perhaps not impossible.

all

species to a greater or

interesting general factor about the

feathers of most owls

is

that they have a saw-

Reasonably comprehensive written descriptions fall


under this heading and help to augment what is visually apparent in the Color Plates of the fifty-nine owl

toothed fluting on the leading edges of those feathers,

subspecies.

permitting almost soundless to entirely soundless

is

flight.

The

reader should bear in

written or painted

closely

is

mind

that

representative

what

of

the

coloration and marking of the species in question, but

great degrees of variation in these physical characteris-

can and do occur

tics

VOICE
Some

owls tend to be rather silent most of the year

and not even


(Strix varia sp.)
of incredible.

whose

such

ventriloquistic.

in
It

the

as the

addition,

little

many

owls are extremely

in writing the sound that a bird makes,


an owl. What sounds a certain way to one
listener may sound considerably different to another.
Where a call lends itself to a form of transliteration,

especially

made

is

under

this

to

reproduce the

heading for the

reason for the call

if

this

is

Where

CHARACTERISTICS

repertoire of calls they

reproduce

effort

species.

GENERAL HABITS AND

short

often most difficult to attempt to

is

virtually all

breeding

Barred Owls

vocal abilities are

They have a wide

can utter and,

during

vocal

especially

season, but there are others

in

and markings are concerned, they


are noted in order to establish the difference between
an adult owl and an immature one of the same species.

juvenile colorations

call

in

specific owl,

Here the traits which make of the owl what it is are


discussed, and each species has habits and characteristics which set it well apart from other species, as well
as making it distinct from the other races within its own
species.

written form

PORTRAIT STUDIES OF VARIED JUVENILE

OWLS

along with the


1.

known.

Great Horned

proximately
2.

five

Owl

(Bubo

virginianus

virginianus)

ap-

caurina)

ap-

weeks old.

Northern Spotted Owl

[Strix

occidentalis

proximately one month old.


3.

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLOR, VOICE

4.

six

Under this heading, whatever sexual differences are


known in these aspects are listed. Almost as a general
the female owl

male and, in
many cases, her voice tends to be higher. Sometimes
there is a difference in coloration to some degree.
rule,

xx

is

larger than the

Saw-whet

Owl

acadicus

{Aegolius

acadicus)

approxi-

mately nine weeks old.

5.

Long-eared

weeks

Owl

(Asio

otus

wilsonianus)

approximately

old.

Eastern Screech

Owl (Otus

three days after

asio naevius)

hatching.
6.

Eastern Screech

two weeks
7.

Owl (Otus

Great Horned

Owl (Bubo

proximately three and one-half

Introduction

asio naevius)

approximately

old.

virginianus
to four

weeks

virginianus)
old.

ap-

%/$,

weei<$

old

$
\

'/

Vc^

aowi nc%

Jc/vertle sffliiL}

Xftf

YOUNG AND FAMILY

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS

HUNTING METHODS
AND CARRYING OF PREY
FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

From

hatching, through early development until the

time they leave the nest, and even beyond, the young
birds

and

their family life are discussed

under

this

head-

ing.

These headings are reasonably self-explanatory, and


for each of the eighteen species

information

and

its

under discussion,

regarding

how and where

favored,
the owl

provided

is

roosting

type

specific

of

terrain

done, the foes of

is

ability to protect itself,

how

secures

it

what it eats, how it eats and how


it disposes of its wastes. Most owls, for example, when
prey is small enough, swallow it whole and later regurgitate compact pellets containing the bones, fur, feathers,
teeth, and other indigestible materials. But some owls
and

carries

its

prey,

carefully dissect their prey,

much

as a

hawk does when

These and other matters related

feeding.

to the

above

headings are discussed in detail for each of the species.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


The
there

is

ANNUAL BROODS,
Under

range,

if

maps

any,

specifics

of

the

indicated by shading; the southerly

is

indicated by

is

more darkly shaded

MIGRATION

species,

along

with

regarding their nests and nesting habits. Al-

though owls are almost universally single-brooded, sometimes they do lay second or even third sets of eggs in a
single year.

Many owls do not migrate at all; others simply move


from higher elevations in mountainous areas to lower
elevations for the winter. Some, such as the Snowy Owl
(Nyctea scandiaca)

are quite erratic in their migrations,

movement about every four


depending to some extent upon severity of the

reaching cyclic peaks of


years,

winter and availability of prey. Often there

any migrational movement

EGGS
Under this heading
the number of eggs

at

is

scarcely

Characteristics

all.

in

regard to migration are described here.

for each species


laid

areas.

NEST,

these headings are included the courtship activ-

and mating habits

described in

and

map. Where the maps are concerned, some owls have a


more southerly winter range than their breeding range.
Such winter ranges tend to fluctuate greatly as to distance and regularity of occurrence and these variations
are discussed under the heading above as well as under
the heading for Migration. Breeding range on the dis-

NESTING HABITS
ities

is

for each
an accompanying North American distributional

tributional

COURTSHIP AND MATING

of each subspecies

distribution

detail in the text, as explicitly as possible,

is

listed

not only

per nesting and the color,

shape, texture, and size of the eggs, but the interval of

time elapsing between the laying of one egg and the


next,

and the dates when egg-laying occurs

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE

in various

geographic areas of the bird's distributional range. (See

Comparison Table 2 for average egg size of all eighteen


owl species in North America north of Mexico.)

North American owls are generally, with but very


few exceptions, highly beneficial economically and ecologically. Why this is so is discussed under this heading.
Because owls are indeed primarily birds of the night,

and therefore much more

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS

observe and study

difficult to

than the diurnal orders, a great deal

known about

their

still

remains un-

natural history. Yet, they are no

longer so distinctly the birds of mystery that they were


It

is

interesting to note that

most owl eggs

in a nest

do not hatch at the same time. In fact, it may be more


than two weeks from the hatching of the first egg until
the hatching of the last, depending upon when actual
incubation was begun. These and other matters pertaining to
species.

xxn

the heading

above are discussed for each

through so
that

many

The Owls

centuries. It
of

is

the hope of the authors

North America

will

help to dispel

accumulated
myths and superstitions that
and text
art
of
about owls and that this presentation
will bring a greater appreciation and understanding of
just what an owl is, what it does, and its place in our
the

world today.
Introduction

have

THE TOPOGRAPHY OF AN OWL


(Side View)

2.

Talon
Thigh

3.

Belly

i.

Flank

23.

Scapulars

13.

Crown

24.

Greater Coverts

14.

Forehead

25. Tertials

12. Iris

15.

Superciliary (Eyebrow)

26.

Secondaries

Side

16.

Pupil

27.

Rump

6.

Breast

17. Facial

7.

Malar Region

18.

Side of

Hindneck

4.

5.

Rim

28. Upper-tail

Head

8.

Lores

19.

9.

Facial Disk

20. Lesser Coverts

10.

Auriculars (Ear Coverts)

21.

1 1

Outer Eye Corner

22.

Back
Middle

(or

(or

29.

Nape)

Median) Coverts

Coverts

Primaries

30. Rectrices (Tail)


31. Undertail Coverts
32.

Tarsus

33.

Foot

THE TOPOGRAPHY OF AN OWL


[Under parts)
23. Collar

Primaries

12.

Facial

Secondaries

13.

Suborbital Area

24.

14.

Ear Tuft

25.

26. Breast

Chin
Gular Area (or Throat)

3-

Flank Feathers

4-

Fluting

15.

Crown

Greater Coverts

16.

Superciliary (or Eyebrow)

27.

Side

5-

28.

Median

6.

Alula

17.

Forehead

7-

Lesser Coverts

18.

Supraorbital Area

29. Belly

B.

Axillaries

19.

')

Carpal Joint (or Wrist)

20. Side of

Culmen (Beak)
Head

31.

Shoulder

21. Facial

10.
1

Rim

I.

2.

1.

Ear

22.

Disk

Malar Region (Lower Cheek)

30.

(or Center) Line

Talon
Vent (or Cloaca)

32. Undertail Coverts


33. Rectrices (or Tail Feathers)

22

23

THE TOPOGRAPHY OF AN OWL


{Up per parts)
i.

2.

Outer Toe
Talon

15.

Rictal Bristles

29.

Shoulder

16.

Cere (Nostrils)

30.

Neck

3.

Primaries

17.

Forehead

31. Lesser Coverts

4.

Middle Toe

18.

Superciliary for Eyebrow)

32.

5.

Tarsus

19.

Crown

33. Scapulars

6.

Greater Coverts

20. Auriculars (or

7.

Flutings

21. Facial

Ear Coverts'

Rim

34.

Back

Lower Back

35. Secondaries

8.

Middle

22.

Ear Tuft

36.

Rump

9.

Alula

23.

Occiput (or Back of Head)

37.

Heel

10.

Throat

24.

Ear

38. Upper-tail Coverts

11.

Malar Region (Lower Cheek)


Chin
Lower Beak (or Mandible)
Culmen (Upper Mandible)

25.

Hindneck (Nape)

26.

Side of

27.

Carpal Joint (or Wrist)

12.
13.
14.

(or

Median) Coverts

28. Facial

Head

Disk

39. Inner

Toe

40. Rectrices (or Tail Feathers)

41.

Hind Toe

42.

Foot

SPECIES

AND

rsre

SUBSPECIES OF

ews

OF NORTH AMERICA
(NORTH OF MEXICO)

such groves in the Far West and Deep

ally frequents

South.

ghost owl
pearance in

Because of the white, wraithlike ap-

flight, especially in

the late twilight.

golden owl After the darker color phase.


lechuza mono Mexican-Indian name

SPECIES

meaning

"Monkey (Faced) Owl."


name

French-Canadian

l'effraie

"The

meaning

ORDER:

STRIGIFORMES

Frightener."

FAMILY:

TYTONIDAE

like

SUBFAMILY:

TYTONINAE

appearing eyes against the rather stark whiteness of the

GENUS:

Tyto (Billberg)

monkey-faced owl

monkey"monkey" aspect
dark, and somewhat beady-

For the

distinctive,

configuration of the face, with the

heightened by the smallish,


facial disks.

orange owl

For the yellowish-orange color phase of

some.

SPECIES:

(Scopoli)

alba

queen-of-the-night Because
and its imperiality at roost.

owl

spirit

BARN OWL

(Bonaparte)

it

often

its

grace in flight

inhabits

deserted

sweetheart owl
figuration of

its

Because of the heart-shaped con-

facial disks.

tawny owl For its general coloration.


white owl For the distinctiveness of its

BARN OWL

light color-

how-

ation in flight, especially at dusk. This local name,


ever,

{COLOR PLATE

or

abandoned buildings which the superstitious refer to as


being "haunted" houses.
stone owl For its habit in bygone years of nesting
in cavities of the stone walls of barns, silos, and other
farm outbuildings.

SUBSPECIES

pratincola

Because

of

and,

I)

Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)


the Arctic Horned Owl {Bubo

also used for the

is

often,

less

for

virginianus subarcticus)

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Tyto alba pratincola (Bonaparte). Original description: Strix pratincola Bonaparte,

parison List, 1838, page

7.

Geographic and Com-

New name

Wilson, American Ornithology,

for Strix

Volume VI,

flammea

181

2,

page

on a specimen from Pennlocale designation. Former

57, plate 50, figure 2, based

sylvania

without

specific

names: Strix flammea, Strix flammea americana, Strix flammea pratincola, Aluco pratincola, Strix

scientific

pratincola.

Medium-large

in

comparison with other North Amer-

ican owls, the Barn

Owl

and
somewhat

configuration

tufts

its

facial

triangular,

and

has a large head without ear

and heart-shaped.

quite

long

stance

when perched. Because

much

appears

it

it

often

takes

of

its

long,

distinctively

is

rather

legs

Its

are

knock-kneed

expansive wingspan,

larger in flight, especially at dusk or

during the night, than when perched in the daytime.


Its face

is

distinctly white

and the generally tawny body

coloration takes on a peculiar whitish

dim

appearance

in

This whiteness, especially of the underside,

light.

tends to frighten some people,

who

associate

it

with a

OTHER NAMES

ghost flying through the dusk or darkness. Because of

American barn owl Frequently referred to by this


name to separate it from other races elsewhere in the

streamlined appearance than most other owls of this

world.

somewhat long-nosed

the smooth density of the plumage, the bird has a

citrus

owl

Primarily used in connection with the

yellowish-orange color phase of the owl and not because


it is

especially fond of citrus groves,

though

it

occasion-

continent.

to the

viewer to be a

Rank
Sixth.

Barn Owl

The unusually

in

over-all

more

long beak imparts an aquiline,

aspect,

and its expression seems


and almost haughty.

bit catlike
size

among

the

eighteen

species:

SHAPE AT REST
Tends

when

to stand well erect

WINGSPAN

perched, whether on

Species average

on a

This erectness of posture tends to im-

flat surface.

part a generally slimmer contour for

its size

than

seen

is

1,084.4

mm.

(42.7").

Male

the branch of a tree, a fence post, a barn rafter, or even

in other owls.

Average

1,066.1

Minimum
Maximum

1,029.0

Rank

in

1,105.0

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

(42.0")

1,102.6

(40.5")

1,062.1

(43.5")

1,143.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(43.4")
(41.9")
(45.0")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Fourth.

SHAPE IN FLIGHT
INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH
Most likely to be mistaken for the Short-eared Owl
(Asio flammeus flammeus) in flight, especially since
ranges often overlap,

their

from that owl by not having quite


short-necked,

blunt

rather

so

appearance.

(13.0").

Male

pronounced a

Average

In

Minimum
Maximum

flight

mm.

Species average: 328.8

but can be distinguished


the

wings appear rather long.

Female

mm.
31 1.2 mm.
3419 mm.

324.9

Rank

in

(12.8")

332.7

(12.3")

317.0

(13.5")

356.6

mm.
mm.
mm.

(13.1")
(12.5")
(14.1")

wing length among the eighteen species: Fourth.

FLIGHT PATTERN
TAIL LENGTH

The Barn Owl

side to

a strangely moth-

Species average: 156.6

Male

on the average)

during

side

flight

its

the bird

to

its

flying,

be and

long,

wings

frightened from

is

daylight hours,

of

This characteristic of

becomes even more noticeable

reeling flight

bewilderment

in

rather than following a

direct-line sort of flight pattern.

when

rapid wingbeats (6.7

fairly

Frequently the bird moves lightly from

strokes per second


like fluttering.

with

flies

when

there

is

its

at

times

Average

136.8

Minimum
Maximum

124.8

Rank

perch during the

length

(6.2").

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

15 1.1

in tail

mm.

(5.4")

176.4

(4.9")

160.3

(6.0")

192.6

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(7.0")
(6.3")
(7.6")

the eighteen species: Sixth.

a very distinct aspect of

to the bird's flight. Despite the irregularity

it is

quite swift
lightly,

flies

on the wing when it wishes


and noiselessly on

BEAK LENGTH

gracefully,

broad wings. Often, for steering purposes, the


will

flap

an

in

erratic

mm.

Species average: 24.4

manner, out of concert

(1.0").

Male

with one another.

Measurements have been based on 96 measured


46 males and 50 females.

birds

Average

23.4

Minimum
Maximum

21.1

Rank

in

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

25.4

beak length

(0.9")

25.4

(0.8")

22.9

(1.0")

30.5

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.0")
(0.9")
(1.2")

the eighteen species: Third.

WEIGHT
Species average: 442.2

LEGS, FEET,

gr. (15.5 oz.).

Male
Average

383.9 gr.

(13.4 oz.)

31 1.9 gr.

(10.9 oz.)

5 00 -5 gr3 8 3- gr-

('7-5 oz.)

Minimum
Maximum

(i34

oz.

507.5 gr.

(17.8 oz.)

573-2 gr.

(20.1

oz.

Rank

in

weight

among

TALONS

Female

the eighteen species: Sixth.

The
73.3

unusually long tarsus of this owl, which averages

mm.

female,
ing

the

is

male and

(2.6") in the

slightly longer in the

nearly twice as long as the middle toe, exclud-

talon.

The upper

legs

are

coarsely

densely feathered, and the lower legs are

TOTAL LENGTH
Species average: 441.8

mm.

423.0

Minimum
Maximum

485.4

Rank

360.7

in total

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

(17.4").

Male
Average

LIFE STUDIES OF

Female
16.7")

460.5

(14.2")

386.3

(19.1")

534.7

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

Barn Owl captured

Villa, Illinois,

showed

in

little

(18.1")

upon

(15.2")

under the bright sunlight

(21. 1")

number

the eighteen species: Sixth.

silo

BARN OWL
near Cedar Lake at Lake

fear or hostility. Placed

unharmed

a fence, the bird sat quietly for a considerable while

of quick sketches

allowing the
before casually

flying methodically off, close to the ground.

Barn Owl

but not

much more

artist

time

for

taking wing and

and these feathers are shorter than

scantily feathered

The

those of the upper leg.

feathers of the tarsus along

upward

the backside point

downward

rather than

as

the frontside feathers do. All the toes are only sparsely

covered with
inner toe

almost indistinguishable

fine,

as long as the

is

the middle toe has

its

The

bristles.

middle toe and the talon of

inner edge pectinated with close,

comblike teeth which evidently aid the bird in

short,

maintaining a grip on

its

prey.

Legs and

where

feet

scales are evident range from dusky yellowish green to

American Ornithological Union Annual Convention, in


ioo7j Roger Payne and William Drury discovered that
Barn Owls could locate prey very accurately by sound
alone, wholly without use of the eyes.

dark gray and the talons are uniformly black. The


Barn Owl has a very powerful grip and with simple

ears

muscle pressure alone can drive the talons their

ity

full

The

ioo per cent accuracy.

wide-set character of the

and the asymmetrical placement and muscular

abil-

of the ear flaps permit a differential reception of

sound;

length into their usual rodent prey.

In a specially

from which all light was excluded, tests


proved the Barn Owl could repeatedly and unerringly
detect the presence of prey on the leaf-littered floor by
hearing alone. As soon as the prey animal stopped
moving, the Barn Owl would launch itself from its
perch and soundlessly snatch the prey with incredible
sealed room,

the

thus,

made by

noise

the

prey

potential

reaches one of the owl's ear chambers slightly before

reaching the other. This permits not only accurate identhe

of

tification

EYES AND VISION


North American

ears also

whence

from

direction

originates, but equally a

distance to the prey from where the owl

As with
tected

all

the

against

possibly against

struggles

collision

tremely bright light)

species, the eye

of

its

prey

(as

is

pro-

well

as

with brush and against ex-

by a nictitating membrane.

eyes are unusually small for

an owl of

this size.

The
Most

often the eyes are described as being black, but this

is

an understandable one. In actuality, the iris is a deep mahogany brown, with such depth
of hue as often to appear as black as the pupil under
poor lighting conditions. Although the Barn Owl's

an inaccuracy,

albeit

more important
role in hunting than do the eyes. (See Ears and Hearing.)
Unlike the majority of North American owls,
which can see quite well in the daytime, the Barn Owl
shows a strong dislike for any bright light and has
night vision

is

acute, the ears play a far

showed a

the

sound

remarkably flawless gauge of


is

perched.

well. When one of the Barn Owl's ears was temporarily


and harmlessly plugged with a piece of dampened tissue,
the bird would miss its prey by ten or twelve inches on
the first attack, but would always home in accurately
on the second attempt. In hunting, the owl's ears and
eyes work well in concert, but the primary function of

the eyes

is

to avoid obstacles during the attack flight.

Location of prey

chiefly

is

by sound, and so keen

the

is

owl's hearing that this species' auditory senses are said

running mouse's feet

to be able to hear the patter of a

on a hard-packed earthen path

at a distance of thirty

yards or more.

difficulty adjusting its vision to

daytime conditions, even

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

after long exposure to daylight.

During nighttime hunt-

MOLT

ing, the eyes are

The

distinct adaptability to distortion as

used more for locating and avoiding

branches and other obstructions than for pinpointing


the location of prey.

The Barn Owl


is

has no ear

tufts.

dense and tight to the body, but

with the

The

it is

bird's

plumage

equally very

soft,

feathers having rather furry serrations

flight

on the leading edges which cushion the

called flutings

passing air in flight and diminish sound. Observers have

EARS AND HEARING

had Barn Owls

past their heads so closely that the

fly

slight breeze of their passage


It

is

possible that the

Barn Owl may have the most

acutely developed sense of hearing of

all

our owl

species.

of cheek or neck, yet with


to

be heard.

Unlike most North American owls, which tend to have

year, usually in

asymmetrical ear cavities on opposing sides of the skull

though

as

it

no

could be
slightest

felt

on the

skin

whisper of sound

complete molt of plumage occurs each


August, September, and October,

al-

has been recorded beginning as early as July

an aid to accurate location of prey even on extremely

dark nights, the Barn Owl's ear cavities are symmetrical.

However, the

lightly feathered flaps of skin in front of

the widely separated ears are asymmetrically placed and

muscularly controlled to such degree that they can work

independently of each other, in concert or in opposition.


Evidently this

is

BARN OWL

Tyto alba pratincola (Bonaparte). Male. White-breasted color


phase, Peotone, Will County, Illinois, November 12, 1943.
A.O.U. (American Ornithological Union) Number 365

a tremendous aid in pinpointing the

II

location of prey through a process of triangulation. In

Strix

a series of well-publicized experiments reported to the

Cook County,

Barn Owl

varia

varia

NORTHERN BARRED OWL


Barton.

Illinois,

April

Male. Poplar Creek near Elgin,


1,

1968.

A.O.U. Number 368

,VW*<

^r^
fX

<

*tt

and ending

November. Since onlyt a few

as

late

as

feathers are lost at a time, hunting ability of the bird

is

quality.

It

described

best

is

sound, as in the

ten-second intervals at

not noticeably affected.

prolonged clicking

as

letters cliaaackkk!\

repeated at about

but becoming more closely

first,

toward the end and with lessening volume.


There may be as many as twenty of these sounds
issued in succession or as few as eight.
spaced

VOICE
The Barn Owl makes a

variety of sounds, including

groaning noises, raspy screeches, beak snap-

hissings,

and rather unearthly tonal

pings,

When

fluctuations.

hatched, and before their eyes have opened, the baby

owls are limited to a feeble and high-pitched, wavering,

whining

cry,

which continues nearly

hatchlings are awake. This

The

peal for food.

is

the while the

all

evidently a persistent ap-

deepens and becomes louder

call

with each passing day. By the time they are a couple of

weeks

and

old, they've learned to hiss angrily

make a

also tend to

when

disturbed

throaty, raspy, hissing scream

sound has been termed the "snoring"

and

call

sound which might be made

if

is

open

into throat, although the bird's

as the cry

uttered. It

is

rem-

the hun-

from
wide

gry young bird continually kept sucking saliva

mouth

mouth

is

a call which can be

is

simulated by clenching the teeth and inhaling sharply

through one corner of the mouth. This

call

pitch

and of shorter duration. Like

Owl,

it

parent birds, the

tends to become louder and more

call

The young

insistent.

same

this

usually uttering

The

the Barn

devoid of musical quality. If ignored by the

dramatically

make

all cries of

birds

some time after leaving the


while on the wing.

Owl

adult Barn

most owls and usually

seems to be limited to

made when

for a considerable distance

The

to

nest,

and

is

five vocal

common among

angry. It can be heard


is

rather menacing in

follows
i.

contact

call,

normally given in

which

flight,

permits traveling birds to keep within audible range of

one another.
cry,

much

dious.

It

It

considering the nature of the alarm

is,

softer sound,

though not

much more

melo-

has been likened vaguely to the call of the

nighthawk, but probably more because of the regular


intervals at

which

it

m
Strix varia georgica

is

repeated than because of tonal

FLORIDA BARRED

varia

helveola

20,

(Bangs).

even the most stalwart

a strong momentary apprehension. There


letters in the

is

no

alphabet through

which to attempt duplication of this harsh and wholly


unmelodious cry.
3. A heavy growling sound, not unlike a large dog
which can't seem to make up its mind whether to whine
or snarl and so combines both. This is a particularly
frightening cry in the darkness, especially if the Barn

Owl

uttering the sound

The growl

is

flying

is

prolonged for

six

toward the

listener.

or seven seconds

and

usually repeated from three to five times at intervals of


It has not been definitely
sound means, but it may be a sort
of recognition signal given by the male bird only to

seconds

several

established

between.

this

in

mate of his approach to the nest. The nearest


which it can be imitated in print is ssschnnaair-

mating

alert his

form

what

rkk!
4.

call,

evidently given only by the male

and uttered during the courtship flight. As the


male hovers in one spot not far above where the female

bird

is

perched, he raises his head until the beak

and makes

this

excited

skyward,

is

chanting cry in a distinctly

is the softest and least displeasing


Barn Owl utterances and most nearly sounds
like a faintly raspy, monotonous whee-tuh
wheetuh
whee-tuh
whee-tuh which may continue
for many minutes and with intervals of no more than
two seconds between each cry.
5. Finally, there is a peculiar rattling call for which
no explanation is known. This call, given in flight, has
a sound not unlike a pea-sized pebble vigorously shaken
from end to end in a short plastic cylinder. Some listeners have suggested that this is merely a different caliber
of beak snapping, but because of the rapidity with
which it is issued and the fact that it has never been
heard coming from a perched bird snapping its beak, it

breathless manner. It
of all the

is

more

likely that the call

is

vocal.

The sound cannot

well be reproduced in print.

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES

1969.

As

in

most birds of prey, the female Barn Owl is


markedly larger

larger than the male, although not so

TEXAS BARRED OWL


Female. Vicinity of Corpus

Nueces County, Texas, January


Number 368-B

Christi,

easily cause

adequate combination of

Latham. Female. Three miles southeast

Englewood, Charlotte County, Florida, June


A.O.U. Number 368-A

Strix

can

OWL

of

rv

a fearsome, shattering, dis-

is

basic adult calls, however, are as

five

human

sounds, plus the beak snapping, which

character.

continue

call for
it

in the darkness,

not too

is

unlike the cry of the adult bird, but usually higher in

is

alarm cry which

if

allowed to become too hungry. This angry, rather wet

iniscent of the

An

2.

cordant shriek or scream which, coming unexpectedly

20,

1910.

A.O.U.

as in many species of North American owls. There are


two distinct color phases and some degree of gradation
between these phases (see Coloration and Markings:

Barn Owl

Adult), but studies have indicated there


tion of color phase to sex. Vocally,

no correla-

is

the male bird

is

dorsal surface

are

and onto the inner


mottled with

usually well

scapulars.

The wings

black or,

grayish

less

reported to issue a deeper cry than the female and not

frequently,

so harshly grating. His repertoire of calls also

underparts are essentially very light tawny to pure white


and spotted or distinctly marked with small V-shapes
of dark brown or orange brown. These V-shapes may
be well scattered in some individuals and quite heavily

seems to

be greater than the female's.

barred.

distinctly

Breast,

belly,

and other

peppered across the underside of others. The

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


The Barn Owl has been
closely
results

studied in this respect

this species are

more

needed. As nearly as can

be determined from bird-banding data, out of every


ioo birds hatched, 60 will die before reaching the age

bars of dark grayish brown, terminating in white at the

The heart-shaped facial disk is


medium to heavy brownish encircling the upper half of the eye and much darker
near the front of the eye than toward the rear. The
tips

of

of

this

sumption of mice and

rats

mortality occurs from conwhich have themselves eaten

rodent poisons shortly before being taken as prey.

Of

the remaining 40 birds of each 100, 14 more will die


some time during their second year. Nine others will
live to between three and four years of age, six more
will die during their fifth year, and four each will die
during the sixth and seventh years. Two birds may live
to see their tenth year and only one of these 00 will live
beyond that time. As far as longevity is concerned, the
oldest banded wild bird recovered was just past its
eleventh year and still in good condition when struck
by a car and killed. However, there have been numerous cases of captive birds living well over fifteen
years, and even one unconfirmed report of a captive
Barn Owl which finally died of old age during its fiftyfirst year. Average lifespan in the wild seems to be between five and eleven years.

the rectrices.

pure white except for

disk

facial

of one year. Available evidence seems to indicate that a


sizable percentage

is

orange, well mottled and crossed by about five distinct

than any other owl species, but more conclusive


even for

tail

sometimes dorsally white, but far more often a medium-

is

encircled

by a narrow ruff of vaguely

darker brown to sometimes almost wine-red feathering,

with scattered blackish in the ruff across the throat.

The primary wing


brown, tending
usually

coverts are a decided darker orange

become mottled toward the tips, and


a small spot of white on the top near the outer

end of the

to

feathers.

In the orange-breasted phase the plumage

is

con-

and a somewhat deep,


though not dark, yellowish orange beneath, and simi-

siderably darker orange above

larly

V-marked or sometimes

tail is

spotted with brown.

The

a darker sienna tawny with bars of mottled dark

brown. The

facial disk

is

a medium-sienna

tint

rather

than white.

Plumage coloration variations seem to have nothing


to do with sex, geographic locale, or age of
the bird. The beak on both color phases is a pale yellow
tan. but the scaled portion of legs and feet is somewhat

whatever

darker

in

the

than

orange-breasted

in

the

white-

breasted phase.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


JUVENILE

The Barn Owl

is

to

some degree dichromatic within


markedly so as in some species,

though not so
example the Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio
naevius) in which the dichromatism is quite manifest
in sharply defined red-phase and gray-phase birds. The
Barn Owl color-phase difference is limited to a light
tawny whitish coloration generally, which is referred to
as the white-breasted phase (see Color Plate I), and a
its

race,

as

for

darker

somewhat

and

more

yellow-orange-brownish

Juvenile birds in their first-winter plumage are quite


similar in coloration

and markings

with but a few minor exceptions.

to the adult birds,

The gray

the back and other dorsal portions are

spottings

less

on

extensive

and more interspersed with tints of tan. The crown


and hindneck vary from a sandy-cinnamon to a sandycream color instead of being uniform with the back
coloration and markings as in adults, and both crown

shade termed the orange-breasted phase. In the former


color phase

the

orange which

is

upperparts are a distinctly yellowish

mottled and dappled with generally

small scattered spots of dark grayish brown, and


delicately dusted with very light spots ranging
faint

tawny

to white.

from a

This spotting and a hint of white

and blackish mottling


8

more

is

continuous across the entire

Field sketches of the Barn

Owl {Tyto

alba pratincola) stand-

ing and listening for prey in northern Illinois barn. Stance


is

reasonably erect until sound of prey

upon head

is

by the bird, followed by instant attack.

Barn Owl

is

detected, where-

lowered, location of prey accurately triangulated

K.e.iC

and hindneck are sparingly spotted with salt-and-pepper


spots of gray and black.

aspect of the Short-eared

Further, the Short-eared

Owl immediately identifies it.


Owl regularly hunts its terri-

and is more apt to be seen, since the


Barn Owl rarely ventures out before dusk and is nor-

tory in the daytime

mally already at roost before sunrise.

GENERAL HABITS AND


CHARACTERISTICS
The Barn Owl

one of our most

is

owls, disliking leaving

when many

days,
is

its

on the cloudiest of

roost even

other owls are abroad.

An

exception

during the nesting season when procurement of food

young birds is a constantly increasing burden.


At such times the Barn Owl will hunt late in the day
when it is overcast. Normally it prefers to remain very
inactive during daylight hours and is not easily aroused
from its sleep.
At Lake Villa, Illinois, a pair of Barn Owls roosting
for the

in a silo permitted the

author to scale the iron rungs to

watching him

their perch,

when he stopped

he ascended. Even

sleepily as

three feet from them, they were not

unduly alarmed. One was a partial albino and permitted the author to reach out and touch it before
taking wing rather sullenly through an opening in the

The

roof.

silo

bird,

allowed

second, a normal white-breasted-phase

made no

wings closed, and

muted beak snapping


where

rungs,

be picked up across the back,

to

itself

alarm other than a

sign of

bottom of the
began struggling. The bird was checked

it

leg. It

was placed upon a fence post

and

lot

for fully five minutes

it

sat

in the

there

squinting against the brightness of the day before finally

and then taking wing. It flew rather


lazily off low across a meadow and disappeared into a
dense growth of tamarack. This exemplifies another
fluffing

facet

feathers

its

of

the

character

bird's

that

is

it

normally a

calm-natured owl, not easily excitable and slow to be-

come angry. This is true even if


Not until about sunset does
roost

and begin

its

during the night,


returning to

its

eggs are handled.

Owl leave its


Though it may oc-

the Barn

evening hunt.

and

casionally perch

sleep for a short interval or

it is

two

normally active the night through,

favorite roost about half an

its

Tyto alba pratincola

hour before

distinctly

is

a bird of open

country rather than a woodland owl and

man

clined to avoid the proximity of

much

man and

yet

observed

is

less in-

than other owls.

Probably no other North American owl spends


time so close to

its

life-

Often

less.

up residence in the very midst of a buscity and yet remain undetected, primarily

pairs will take

town or

tling

because they are so thoroughly nocturnal in their hunting habits and so exclusively retiring during the day-

Their comings and goings are seldom ob-

light hours.

served by man,

even in heavily settled communities.

They have adapted extremely

well to a close existence

with man, taking advantage of the fact that the rodents

upon which they feed, very nearly to the exclusion of all


else, are more abundant near man than anywhere else.
Most highly favored roosts are usually high on the
darkest ledges and crannies of old buildings of all sorts

residences,

until nearly to the

thoroughly, found to be in good health and had no

band on its
open barn

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

nocturnal

strictly

fries,

inside

open

barns, churches, water towers,

silos,

bel-

vine-covered porches, on wall projections

attics,

wells,

tank houses, steeples, farm outbuild-

ings of all kinds, windmills, institutional buildings, factories, granaries,

community

of

rarely come.

and

similar places in the midst of the

man and

yet

where people themselves

Often large hollows

in

sion

it

beside resi-

trees

On

occa-

will dig a tunnel as a nesting site or roost,

going

dences or in city parks will be used as

roosts.

inward horizontally for three or four feet in easily excavated stream banks. In areas where there are cliffs, such
as along Pacific coastal areas, roosts are often in cliff

crannies. Clefts in quarry walls are also favored, as are

old

mine

ing

is

shafts.

In areas like southern California, roost-

frequently in areas of live oak trees and in the

smaller canyons, barrancas, and the fringes of the lower


slopes of foothills.

In such areas they will very often

roost beneath railroad or

highway bridges and

in cul-

sunrise.
verts.

Quite a heavy eater,


habits

and the

it

not at

is

area

nest

or

all

roost

fastidious in

is

usually

its

rather

messily cluttered with regurgitated pellets, bones, fur,


feathers,

and excrement.

It

is

especially fond of roost-

ing and nesting in old buildings,


of

farm buildings,

neath bridges,

steeples,

silos,

windmills,

different kinds

churches,

be-

and other such normally undisturbed

places.

of the

Owl

flying

deserted

same

it

is

relatively close in

size

to

lots,

prairies, orchards,

truck-farm

and other grain storage

areas,

plots,

down

near

alleys,

the Short-

and is a hunter
distinguishing between the two is

Miscellaneous

The

pratincola) in northern Illinois.

(Asio flammeus flammeus)


terrain,

usually easy enough.

10

still remain close to human habitation,


low through large-treed parks, over open fields,

foraging, they

corncribs

Although
eared

The presence of Barn Owls is more often detectable


from the "whitewash" staining of their excrement at the
roost than from actual sightings of the birds. When the
daylight hours have passed and they begin their nightly

stubby-necked, bullet-headed

Barn Owl

field

studies

of

the

Barn Owl

{Tyto

alba

fc^J Look
f>o

oft

<*)**i0s1~

hefos

and especially along railroad tracks and other places


where mice abound.
Very often in autumn and winter the Barn Owl becomes gregarious in its roosting and upward of ten or
twelve birds may be found roosting together in the same
tree or within the same ramshackle building. There
have been cases reported occasionally where even as
many as fifty Barn Owls had assembled and roosted together in the same small grove of trees, taking shelter in
the thick foliage of living trees or neatly hiding themselves among dead leaves of more scattered open-land
trees. In such community roosts, the owls have a habit
of leaving the roost singly, beginning at sunset or shortly

an interval of from

thereafter, with
to several

leaving the roost will frequently circle at


several passes
in

its

around the

it

The owl

first,

making

has just vacated, calling

raspy voice to those remaining behind before set-

ting off alone

on

Because of

its

old

tree

its

way.

and nesting

proclivity for roosting

in

often responsible

is

for the reputation such a house will get for supposedly

The

ing

calls,

along with

weird and rather frighten-

bird's

its

and whitish ap-

ghostlike flight

pearance in the dusk, inspire the '"ghost"


flies

stories as

it

through darkened rooms of the old buildings and

out of broken windows, fallen-door openings, and other

such places of entry or

exit.

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


As with
greatest

by

edly,

owl species, the Barn Owl's


man. More are destroyed, undoubtthan by any other enemy, either directly

practically all

enemy

man

is

or indirectly. Fortunately, destruction


recent years as

who

it

was

is

not as great in

in the past. Farmers, for example,

often shot the birds wherever they saw them, have

learned that the Barn


ficial

Owl

is

probably the most bene-

and they now welcome

bird to have around

presence and actively protect

it.

Good

its

conservation edu-

cation has also aided in stopping the pointless destruction of the birds. Nevertheless, a great

shot or clubbed to death

when

many

are

still

they are encountered,

simply because they are a large and rather fearsome-

appearing bird.

Many

are

still

Owl (Bubo

this

is

virginianus virginianus)

The

the Great

kill

without any

it

that begins flying too early in the day

runs the risk of encountering another natural

enemy

of

some consequence the Prairie Falcon. This bird will


harass the Barn Owl at every opportunity and with a
deadly savagery

if

given half a chance.

falcon will "stoop" into

its

From

above, the

dive at the flying owl and

its skull with the rock-hard blow of its fisted foot.


Sometimes the owl is merely bowled over with the first
blow, but it makes no effort at defense other than to

crush

seek the nearest cover to get

away from

the feathered

enemy.

Though

not really an enemy, the Burrowing

(Speotyto cunicularia sp.)

will occasionally fight

a Barn Owl. This normally occurs as a territorial

pute and, though the Barn

Owl

is

Owl
with
dis-

considerably the

the Burrowing Owl which succeeds


Barn Owl.
Many of the North American owl species are victims
of harassment by small birds wherever encountered, but

larger, usually

it

is

virginianus subspecies.

such

is

not the case with the Barn

Owl. Songbirds

such as wrens, warblers, catbirds, kingbirds, robins, and


jays, and magpies, ofmobbing an owl they discover

mockingbirds, along with crows,


ten take great delight in
at roost, but they

do not seem

to recognize the

Barn

Owl as an enemy and generally pay no attention to it.


Though its principal defense is to seek sanctuary

in

some old building or natural hollow, this is not to say


the Barn Owl has no fighting ability. To the contrary,
it can put up a respectable fight on occasion and, in the
manner of most owls, use its powerful feet well in defense. When threatened, the Barn Owl tends to crouch
or lie flat on the ground with wings outspread, facing
the enemy, glaring and hissing malevolently, while at
the same time snapping the beak sharply as a warning.
The head is often swung back and forth at this time, as
if the owl is looking for an opening for attack. If the intruder continues to press in, the Barn Owl will launch
itself feet first at the enemy and strike accurately with
its

talons toward the enemy's head, especially the eyes.

Even when still quite young, the Barn Owl can put
up a good defense. Fledglings in the nest will snap their
beaks and sway their heads much in the manner of
adults. If the enemy comes too close, they will throw
themselves upon their backs and strike out with the
powerful talons. Even if the enemy does not attack but

is

only

Horned
RODENT FOOD OF THE BARN OWL

or others of the

and more ferocious owl will attack, kill, and devour a Barn Owl without hesitation. Strangely, if there is no building or
natural hollow nearby into which the Barn Owl can
quickly fly and hide itself at the appearance of the Great
Horned Owl. it will often seem to give up and allow the
12

The Barn Owl

pounce and

itself.

man.

natural enemies are concerned, there

one of any consequence, and

Bubo

through indiscrim-

killed

inate use of rodent poisons spread by

Where

to

defend

in driving off the

abandoned houses, the Barn Owl

being "haunted."

real effort to

than a minute

less

minutes or more between departures.

Owl

Great Horned

larger

Although on occasion the Barn Owl


other small birds and,

more

will

often, frogs

important prey by far consists of small

which are shown

here.

Normally,

rodents up to a large rat in

size,

this

sparrows, or

rodents,

owl confines

its

most

some

of

itself

to

although cottontail rabbits

and snowshoe hares are occasionally taken.

Barn Owl

eat

and snakes,

5cJ
Pre^) foh

5/

2.

f) o

m fen a-^Q

O^U
*e< d*tt
^Oc

^^

/..

s ,* y/)c/

^
/Are.

13 -/ff m,

/7-27
6

/V>,

7*o

/s.

^ 0</ ^j.

the young owls will often assume the


With head upraised and beak snapping viowhile at the same time issuing the angry hissing

remains

close,

back with remarkable

offensive.

before

lently,

Even
back,

intruder.

to

of the Barn Owl, even

feet

when

it

quite

is

young, are tremendously powerful and certainly weap-

They strike out with


accuracy and, upon encountering flesh,

ons deserving of respect.

consider-

able

instantly

curve inward with amazing pressure which drives the


talons deeply inward.

The

author, carrying a Barn

he had captured for study, carelessly brought

own body and

to his

talons gripped his

and
and

deeply

flesh

harm

desire to

was only with the greatest of

it

too close

it

one foot shot out and the

puncturing the

There was no

painfully.

so

instantly

thigh,

Owl

the bird

difficulty

and

make

stop,

close passes

Owl

hunts almost incessantly during

waking hours. A seemingly tireless hunter, it probably spends more time on the wing than any other owl.
Although it will occasionally perch on rafters, eaves, or
its

and await the appearance of prey, more often it prefers to range silently back and forth, less than
ten feet off the ground, over meadows, stubble fields,
marshes, open woodlands, and orchards. During such
tree limbs

times

its

tions

and

eyes are used primarily for avoiding obstruc-

incredibly sensitive hearing

its

locating prey. This hunting-by-sound


utterly silent flight of the bird.

mouse or

rat

angles toward
ten snap

it.

is

When

attuned to

the prey

heard moving, the Barn

usually

Owl

a few feet away, the bird

beak once, or

its

When

is

aided by the

is

issue

swiftly
will of-

a brief growling

hiss.

This evidently has the faculty of making the prey, units tracks in an inWithout hesitation the owl
arrows to the exact spot where the sound of movement
ceased and strikes with wide-open talons on both feet.
The instant that flesh is encountered, the foot making
contact closes and the talons drive deeply into the prey,
killing it at once. As is common among all owls, in that
instant of contact the owl closes its eyes tightly until it

aware of danger

until then, freeze in

stinctive protective reaction.

has established a balance against the struggles of


prey, then opens the lids but

membranes

mouse or

sound of the
to the

its

keeps the nictitating

rat does not instantly stop

hiss or

ground

Owl pounce on moving

in front of the

prey. If

running at the

beak snapping, the owl

cats.

More

carried off from where

is

of-

it

is

During the nesting season the adult carries it directly back to the nest for its young, but at other times
it flies to a convenient perch ten feet or more above the
ground before feeding. Almost all prey carried away by
the Barn Owl is carried in the beak. Only with the largkilled.

or bigger prey are the talons used for carry-

will pass

Although primarily a rodent eater and mainly mice


and rats among the rodents the Barn Owl will also
catch, kill, and eat a wide variety of other creatures.

Large

low

intended prey, then wheel

for example, such as katydids, crickets,

insects,

large moths,

a certain

and grasshoppers, are often

number

eaten. Equally,

and

of frogs, snakes, lizards,

crayfish

The

are consumed. Small birds are taken only rarely.

Barn Owl, in fact, is the least destructive of bird life of


any North American owl that is not strictly insectivo-

More

rous.

sparrow or

when a
make up

often than not

bird

is

taken,

it

is

than 5 per cent


of the annual diet of the Barn Owl. Although sparrows

and

starling. Birds

starlings

are in

fact

less

do make up the majority of the birds that


other species have been recorded

taken,

Owl

through dissection and analysis of Barn

These

include

grackles,

wrens,

cowbirds,

warblers, towhees, bobolinks, meadowlarks,

times even birds as large as blue jays, sora

pellets.

swallows,

and somerails,

green

and occasionally
even a small duck. Seldom, if ever, does the Barn Owl
attack domestic poultry. Now and then, though never
on a regular basis, the Barn Owl will catch and eat fish.
herons, clapper

Usually

rails,

this occurs

flickers,

when a

fish

pigeons,

has become trapped in a

drying pool area of a stream, pond, or marsh, and therefore

becomes easy prey.

Among mammals,

although

various species of mice and rats are the principal prey,


the Barn

ground

young

closed until the struggles have terminated.

Rarely will the Barn


the

still

does

ever, will

if

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

prodigious eater and dedicated provider of food for

young, the Barn

rarely,

dozen or more well-experienced barnyard


ten than not the prey

ing.

its

But only

it.

continues

So expert a hunter is the Barn Owl that a single


owl will catch as much rodent prey in one night as a

est of rats

The owl

the confused animal

until

the prey be snatched while in the act of running.

from the

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

again.

run before the owl can come

to

and then snatches

with the help of a friend that the talons were extricated


flesh.

and begin running

wits

almost certainly doomed.

is

it

rodent pauses and

agility as the

its

manage

does

if it

croak, they will open their wings and run fiercely at the

The

can collect

it

Owl

known to take gophers and


many kinds, shrews, moles, bats,
and even mammals as large as full-grown

has also been

squirrels

rabbits,

of

and spotted skunks.


the Barn Owl is definitely

jackrabbits, cottontails, muskrats,

In the pattern of most owls,

not a fastidious eater. All smaller prey


small birds, small

Barn Owl

mammals,

reptiles,

insects,

mice,

and amphibians

are swallowed whole, usually in two or three convulsive

of these activities are relatively sketchy.

mouth once or twice


of
the prey. The Barn
as if to clear it of any residue
Owl can very easily swallow whole prey up to the di-

North American owl

gulps followed by a gaping of the

mensions of a medium-sized house


that

rat.

Prey bigger than

vigorously torn into swallowable chunks with the

is

beak and devoured.

The Barn Owl,

about the courtship and mating

enough

and

bits

mates for

The shape

often, tapered.

let,

mammals

and from two

Owl

is

to three pellets are cast

by the

in-

very rapid and the individual owl will

own weight in prey


nightly and often much more. Young in the nest are
even more voracious and require their own weight or
in

its

Pellets are regurgitated while the

owl

is

perched and,

not, this occurs at the nest site or the

most frequently used

roost.

As a

result, roosts

and

nests

are usually rather disreputable in appearance with the


debris of new,

and decomposed

old,

virtually

pellets

carpeting the area. Sometimes the owl retains

whole

its

roost

becomes covered with


a deep, ruglike covering of prey fuzz from the mouse
hairs in the decomposed pellets. On the ground beneath
the nest area, pellets ejected by the young owls may
build up to a height of two or three feet before the birds
leave. Even beneath a normal adult bird roost there
may accumulate as much as two or three bushels of pelso long that the

let

floor area

on top very fresh and lower


and disintegrating.
wastes, the normal excrement of

material, with those

levels gradually settling

In addition to pellet
the Barn

Owl

is

Where

much

frequently expelled and does

to

The excrement

is

normally a viscous mass mainly

white in color from unassimilated bone matter of the


prey.

Drying of the excrement causes the whiteness

intensify

and

Owl

have been observed

is

concerned,

known

it is

that the fe-

to

look as

if

it

male
Barn Owl watches intently all

feigns lack of interest in anything the courting

actions of her suitor. If she does not wish to be courted

by the approaching male, she


fly off swiftly. If she remains

almost immediately

will

in

male

place, the

will

her roost several times and then hover in place in

circle

front of

and above her by about


flier,

at this time the

o or 15

feet.

Though

male deliberately makes

a muted fluttering sound with his wings. At least once


and perhaps several times during this fluttering action,
rise 50 feet or more and then fall, while
same time clapping the wing tips together be-

the male will


at the

neath him with a crisp slapping sound, catching himself

him

to

within a dozen feet or so of where the object of his

at-

and resuming
tentions

is

his

fluttering

as

his

fall

takes

perched. At intervals between

and clapping, but while he


will

still

is

the

falling

hovering, the male

the unmusical courtship cry of a repeated

issue

whee-tuh sound. (See Voice.)

At

length, evidently satisfied that the female has ap-

proved of

his antics, the

Usually he returns in

less

male

away.

will soar quickly

than 10 minutes with a mouse

or some other form of prey gripped in his beak. Again

he

issues the rattling cry as

he

flies

him and,

he nears her, but

this

time

With
the
prey
from
the female accepts

directly to the perch

surprising delicacy,

ute,

after holding

it

and

settles beside her.

quietly for as long as a min-

throws her head back and swallows

it

whole.

to

after a prolonged period, the roosting or

nesting area tends

courtship

does, the perched female

heighten the sorry appearance of the nesting or roosting


area.

pairs

together over a period of years.

soundless

food every day.

more often than

same

since the

nears her. Unlike some owl species, where the female

usually contained within each pel-

almost always eat at least half

more

though not yet proven, that the Barn

life,

our

in

suspected,

is

Undigested material from three to


is

dividual owl during each 24-hour period. Digestion in


the Barn

It

male is usually perched and is approached by the male


on the wing. He makes a peculiar rattling cry as he

of the

roughly cylindrical with the ends rounded

six small

filled.

or,

three-quarters of an inch in width.

less

others,

some gaps

alba pratincola,

knowledge are gradually being


for example,

is

in

enable some fairly solid conclusions to be reached. In

feathers,

pellet

known

is

nessed over a period of years by trained observers to

tates

compact waste pellets containing the fur, bones,


and other undigestible material of their prey.
For the Barn Owl, each pellet averages about one inch
to an inch and a half in length and about a half-inch to

activities;

pieces of such activities have been wit-

the case of Tyto

of course, as other owls do, regurgi-

Among some

nothing

species, virtually

had been poorly

whitewashed.

Following

this,

copulation

usually

occurs.

The

fe-

male goes into a sort of squat as the male edges toward


her and as he places a foot low on her back with his
wings partially outspread, she partially spreads her

and

tilts

her underside toward him.

his cloacal

opening close

to hers

The male

own

presses

and copulation com-

mences, continuing for as short a time as 5 or 10 seconds to upward of 30 seconds.

COURTSHIP AND MATING

The
about

Because of the nocturnal habits of so

many

owls, the

courtship and mating habits are not easily observable,


as they are in other avian species. Consequently, details

act of copulation
five

is

sometimes repeated within

minutes but more often the two birds

immediately after the

first,

fly off

the female leading the

way

and the male close behind her. Copulation probably occurs numerous times over the next eight or ten nights.

Barn Owl

'5

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

cases the

NESTING HABITS
Owl

if

breeding

its

double-brooded, usually having

is

and the second brood in late summer or early autumn. However,


this is only a generalization, since the Barn Owl, unlike
other owls, will evidently breed at any time of the year.
Baby Barn Owls have been banded in the nests during
every month of the year except December and February,
its first

brood

in late winter or early spring

known

but they are

during those

to be in their nests

undisturbed on their

nesting

bone,

and
Barn Owls,
return to the same

will

nests,

year after year and, as a result, the pellet,

site

feather,

and excrement deposits become


to an enormous ex-

hair,

cumulative and sometimes build up


tent.

The

powering

and stench are sometimes almost overhumans.

filth

to

Normally the nesting male and female roost

close

together during the daytime. Underground, the female


will sleep

male

months

soon carpeted with the

is

the whole area badly stained by excrement.

Except in the more northerly portions of


range, the Barn

whole nesting area

debris of pellets in various stages of decomposition,

on the nest while incubating the eggs and the


one side of the nest near her.

will sleep to

also.

Tyto alba pratincola

not at

is

all

choosy in regard to

Nests have been found in a wide variety of

a nesting

site.

settings.

Natural tree hollows, especially in

oaks,

live

EGGS

with the hollows about 10 to 20 feet high, are a favored

and even more so if the tree is near a marshy


meadow. Occasionally, abandoned crow, hawk, or magpie nests are used. More often the eggs are laid on bare
ledges in silos, barns, and abandoned houses, beneath
bridges, and in old water towers. Church steeples and
belfries are also selected for nesting sites and, on occasite,

the owl will rather stupidly select a completely

sion,

Number

Usually there are a

per nesting

minimum

and a maximum of seven eggs per nesting, but


exceptions occur frequently. Sometimes as few as three
eggs are laid, though rarely fewer than that. Eight, nine,

of four

ten, or eleven eggs in a single nesting

common. Once

a while there

in

is

not terribly un-

may

be twelve and

exposed location on a rooftop to lay her eggs. Such ex-

rarely thirteen or fourteen.

posed nestings are rarely productive, since the heat of

of eggs

on record was twenty-four. This was an unsuc-

cessful

nesting on

and destroy them. Proare often used and once in a

the sun tends to cook the eggs


tected ledges in

cliff

faces

while eggs will be laid on a convenient

some large abandoned piece

of

flat

spot within

farm or railroad ma-

chinery, construction equipment, or dredge.

Very often the Barn Owl


the

abandoned burrow

other such

mammal

adopt the habit of

burrow much
Equally,

it

is

in

of

and,

sitting

the

will nest

it

in

woodchuck, or

does

so,

it

tends to

exposed at the mouth of the

manner

of the

Burrowing Owl.

fond of nesting in holes in the sides of

stream banks and barrancas. Such holes are usually 8 or


10 feet above stream level

and go inward on a

zontal plane for two or three feet before angling

ward

slightly to

end

in a

hori-

down-

more commodious chamber,

perhaps two or three feet in diameter, where the eggs


are laid. Although such holes are usually the

abandoned

own

squirrels, the

Barn Owls use

their

talons to enlarge the tunnels

and chambers

for

them-

selves. Not uncommonly, if the hole is too low


bank of a stream, the nest will be destroyed by

in the

holes of

ground

flood-

largest

a bare tin roof;

deposit

although the

fe-

hours shielding the

daylight

the

all

single

clutch with her wings and body from the sun's rays, the

radiant heat from the tin destroyed them.

Normally a pure, dead white, but occasionally


cast. There is no

Color

underground

badger,

when

male owl spent

The

having a vague yellowish or bluish


gloss

whatever

to the eggs

and they are usually badly


and caked with dried ex-

stained with blood from prey

crement.

Whereas the eggs

Shape

of most

North American

owls are very nearly round, the eggs of the Barn

On

considerably more ovate.

Owl

rare occasions they

are

may

even be an elongated ovate, but most often they are


ovate

liptically

with

one

end

slightly

smaller

el-

than

the other.

Very

Texture

finely

granulated but never entirely

smooth.
Size

The average egg

size,

based on the measure-

ments of 97 eggs, is 42.4 mm. long by 32.4 mm. wide


Ci.7"X'-3")- The extreme measurements are as follows:

waters.

No

actual nesting material

a building ledge, rafter,

cliff

is

collected. If the site

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

is

ledge, rooftop, or other

such area, the eggs are simply laid on the bare surface.
In

natural

tree

hollows

chips or whatever other debris


rally or

been brought

in

laid

on the wood

may have

collected natu-

they are

by the previous occupant. Un-

length:

48.3

length:

35.1

width:

39.8

width:

26.8

Interval of egg-laying
intervals of

The

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

eggs

two or three days, or

may

(1.9")
(1.4")
(1.6")
(i.i")

be laid singly at

in pairs at intervals of

derground, the eggs are usually laid on or near the bed-

about two days followed by a pause of about a week be-

ding material collected by the ground squirrel, badger,

fore the next

or

16

woodchuck

that previously used the burrow. In

all

two eggs are

Egg-laying dates

Barn Owl

laid

two days apart.

Western North America:

earliest,

January 17:

June

latest,

normally between

7;

March

and April 16.


Northern North America: earliest, February 27; latest, July 18; normally between March 28 and May 3.
Eastern North America: earliest, February 22; latest,
June 29; normally between April 9 and May 3.
Southern

North

March

latest,

March

December 24;
normally between March 2 and

America:

advanced appetites and the initial food brought to the


nest is torn into tiny chunks and fed to them by the
mother owl. At first they are fed only the actual meat
free of bones, fur, or feathers.

The

earliest,

24.
earliest,

December

latest,

12;

normally between January 26 and February

March

13;

28.

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS
Incubation begins with the
fore hatching of the owls

fuzzy white

the fifth day.

On

down

covers the nestlings through

the sixth day a buffy second

down

be-

and the natal down is carried away on


the tips of the new down. Movements of the nestlings
against each other and the nest surface quickly wear off
the vestiges of the natal down, and by the ninth day
little trace of it remains. The babies are more attractive
now and rather comical in actions and appearance.
By the ninth day the second down is dense and woolly
and this covering is worn by the young bird until the be-

first

ginning of the seventh week.

On

egg laid and there-

staggered. Well-developed

is

and with dark pinbe found in the same nest with

owlets about the size of a pigeon


feathers in the wings will

eggs just ready to hatch. Normally the

about 18 days before the

first

egg hatches

last egg.

some divergence of opinion about the incubation period required for the hatching of an individual egg. Some authorities have stated as short a period
is

much as 35 days.
much depends on how well incubated the
and how often or for what length of time the

walk about on the nest


sharply

when

often they will

sit

side

by

a portion of the clutch.

side,

The

with each bird brooding

female, though, normally

its

out danger. However,


over onto

its

On

male or female attack a human intruder who

will either

approaches or handles the eggs.

it

from

be handled withit

will roll

eat,

hunger continues

at

nestling of this age, given all the mice

it

swallowed

and prance about in


and screaming. Rarely

still

out angrily with grasping

strike

downy. The young

still

could

a highly agitated manner, hissing

can

it

the twenty-sixth day the primary feathers begin

supplied with food during this period.

short distance away, alight, flutter,

hisses sharply,

head, and sways

pushing through their sheaths, but the wing coverts are

does most of the brooding and the male keeps her well

neck to see

feet.

fly

it

its

severely provoked,

if

back and

disturbed

its

menacingly; but

high peak.

disturbed while brooding, the female will

When

wings, lowers

its

craning

fullest height,

surroundings better.

eggs are

under normal conditions, hatch in 30 to 34 days,


with the most usual incubation term being 33 days.
Both male and female assist in brooding the eggs and

disturbed.

often stands to

side to side

eggs,

this stage

By the twenty-second day the bird is very lively and


extremely demanding of its parents. It eats upward of
one and a half times its own weight in prey brought by
the parents during each 24-hour period. At this age it
its

Probably the majority Qf

docile

relatively

still

spreads

air.

At

alert to everything.

Evidently,

eggs are exposed to the

young owl becomes much


it can stand and
surface without difficulty and is
to handling, though it hisses

the thirteenth day the

more

as 21 to 24 days, while others say as

When

Barn Owls, even if the parent


They are hatched with well-

as

not nearby.

are

gins appearing

Florida:

There

them beyond doubt


birds

bird's

in

six

succession before refusing

the seventh.

The

defensive

reaction

more apparent by
mains

at

peak

the

of

levels.

The young

truders without hesitation.

Fed

becomes
and hunger re-

fledgling

the thirty-first day,

bird strikes out at in-

all

the mice

it

wanted, a

fledgling of this age swallowed nine, although the tail of


its mouth for some
showed signs of hunger again and rapidly swallowed four more mice.
Wings and tail are developing well by the thirty-sixth
day, and by the forty-second day the young birds weigh
more than their parents. The babies are very aggressive

the

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS

one continued

last

time.

By

to

hang out

the end of three hours

of

it

may

At hatching, the babies are sparsely feathered and


lift their heads. By the end of
the first day they are covered with a warm white fuzzy-

The youngest

down and

quickly torn apart and devoured by the others.

very weak, barely able to

are

somewhat

stronger,

able to raise their

heads high for short periods, and even able to stand


clumsily for brief moments.
acteristic

of the

The

elongated facial char-

hatchling owls immediately identifies

and,

if

food

is

scarce, cannibalism

bird in the nest

bedraggled, and should

The

occur in the

usually trod

become weak and

nest.

upon and
fail,

it

is

primaries are becoming well advanced by the

forty-fourth day

wearing

Barn Owl

it

is

and the residue of downy plumage is


These primaries remain as part of

off the tips.

birds which, being so

often bowled over

much

smaller than the others, are

and stepped upon by

their

larger

nestmates.

In the earliest stages of the care of the young,

all

feeding seems to be done by the female bird, but by the

time the young are several days old and have begun to
take whole food

and swallow

it,

the male feeds

them

as

well.

Throughout each night the young birds are fed almost continuously by the hard-pressed parents. When
the babies are younger, the hunting of the parents some-

times results in an overabundance of


nevertheless deposited in
is

which

food,

is

the nesting area. This food

always consumed by the young during the daylight

hours which follow, while the parent birds are sleeping


close

by.

In

one well-observed

brought to the nest

in less

mammals, including

21

case,

parent

bird

than half an hour a total of

squirrel, 3 gophers,

rat,

and

16 mice.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


As a

species,

Tyto alba

is

the most widely distributed

nocturnal bird in the world, populating most of the


world's major land areas.
the duck

BARN OWL
Tyto alba pratincola (Bonaparte)

the first-winter plumage.

The young Barn Owl. how-

ever, does not

become clad

plumage, as

so characteristic of other

is

in a long, soft, fluffy juvenal

North American

hawk

Among

all

birds of prey, only

has so extensive a range, although

it

is

nowhere near the population level of the Barn Owl.


In North America the subspecies Tyto alba pratincola breeds from southwestern British Columbia (Ladner,
Duncan, Vancouver Island), North Dakota
(Grand Fork County), southern Minnesota (Hennepin
County), southern Wisconsin (Dodge County), south-

On(Lambton County, Middlesex County), southern


Quebec (Berthierville) and Massachusetts (Wenham),
ern Michigan (Genesee County), extreme southern
tario

owls.

From

the forty-fifth to the fifty-eighth day the

birds begin losing

some weight,

young

as the parent birds are

no longer able to provide as much for them as they demand. Wings and tail are developing well, and by the
sixty-sixth

day the young owl

first-winter

parent bird.
in the

is

fully feathered in the

plumage and weighs about


It

as

much

as the

leaves the nest at this time but remains

immediate area and is still fed by the parents


two or three weeks, even after beginning to

for another

hunt for

On

itself.

the seventieth

day

at

the

earliest

and by the

young owls disperse


further tendency to
no
There
remain in the nesting area or to return to it any time in
the future. The young owl merely begins wandering
and adopts as its own territory whatever area it has happened to reach by the time winter sets in.

eighty-sixth
in

random

The

day

at the latest, the

directions.

18

all

the contiguous United States to

Baja California (Cape San Lucas), through Mexico to


eastern Guatemala, probably to eastern Nicaragua, and

from Texas through the Gulf States

to southern Flor-

ida.

Casual Range: Northward

to

southern Saskatchewan

(Aylesbury), southern Manitoba (St. Anne), northern

Minnesota (Roseau County), southern Ontario (Sault


Ste. Marie, Bruce County, Carleton County), northern

Vermont (Lyndon), southern Maine (Portland), and


Nova Scotia (Yarmouth County).

is

deplorable condition of the nesting area increases

and soon is a filthy mess; somewhat surprisingly,


however, the baby owls are very clean except for their
feet, and with the exception of the one or two youngest

daily

southward through

MIGRATION
First-winter juveniles from

more northerly portions

of

move southward
movement that has some

the Barn Owl's breeding range tend to

with the coming of winter in a

of the characteristics of a true migration, but this

Barn Owl

is

not

a general characteristic of the

Barn Owl

first-winter

juveniles elsewhere. Generally speaking, Tyto alba prat-

incola

is

a permanent resident throughout

its

is

withdrawal southward, though not a true migra-

Barn Owls are more inclined to wander aimand for greater distances during late autumn and

value as a destroyer of grain-eating

its

In a classic case where a pair of Barn Owls nested in

breeding

range, but during especially severe winters there


slight

holds true for

mice throughout the prairie croplands of mid-America.

unused tower of the Smithsonian

an
ysis

lessly

tained the skulls of 225

early winter than at other times during the year, al-

20

though such wandering is usually haphazard and not


specifically in any one direction. Occasionally they have

and

far out

on the sea and landed on ships

to

rats,
1

meadow

mice, 179 house mice,

20 shrews, 6 jumping mice,

pine mice,

mole,

sparrow.

Because of these highly beneficial feeding habits, the

Barn Owl
America,

rest.

in

They con-

of 200 pellets recovered close to the nest.

tion. All

wandered

Institution

Washington, D.C., Dr. A. K. Fisher conducted an anal-

protected

is

well

as

it

species

should

be.

throughout the world the value of


recognized,

and

throughout
In

other

this bird

North

countries

is

becoming

steps are being taken to protect

it.

In

Barn Owls were once killed


That ended after a study was made by
the Australian Department of Agriculture. It was determined that the average Barn Owl regurgitates a total of
730 pellets each year. Therefore, that number of pellets
was collected and carefully analyzed. They contained
the identifiable remains of 2,239 animals, of which
2,162 were vertebrate animals and 77 were insects. The
Australia, for example, the

indiscriminately.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
The Barn Owl

is

among

the most valuable birds not

only in North America but throughout the world.


a voracious predator throughout

its life,

It is

and well over


is made up of

on an annual basis
man and his crops. Extensive
studies of Barn Owl pellets have been made in various
areas of the world and the conclusions are markedly
90 per cent of

its

diet

animals highly injurious to

similar.

In a study carried out in Poland, for example,

were analyzed which contained the remains of

pellets

15,587 vertebrate animals.

Of

this total, 95.5

individual

animal remains

one Barn

made up

the remaining

.3

Owl

meadow

rats in the

and

far

more than

is

practically inestimable.

The same

bats

young rabbits

375 house sparrows

that an

mice. Its value as a destroyer of cotton

South

143 rats

34 other birds
4 lizards
174 frogs
25 moths

52 crickets

23 starlings

destroys pocket gophers to

the value of $20 to $30 annually,


that in

shown

2,239

which approximate what

alone eats in the course of a single year,

1,407 mice

per cent.

Studies in southern California have

individual adult Barn

Owl

in the pellets,

The

per cent

were important in pointing out the

included:

were small mammals, almost exclusively mice and rats.


Of the remaining 4.5 per cent, birds mainly house sparrows made up 4.2 per cent and amphibians, primarily
frogs,

totals

great value agriculturally of the Barn Owl.

As a result of this study, legislation was enacted


which makes it a crime in Australia to kill a Barn Owl,
with an automatic fine of $25 for each Barn Owl killed.

Barn Owl

*9

round-headed owl
less

swamp owl
wood owl

SPECIES

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY

STRIGIDAE

SPECIES

varia Barton

distinctive, large,

For the type of habitat


Similarly,

tuft-

it

favors.

woodland habitat

for the

it

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
One

of our largest owls, the

{Strix varia varia),

Strix Linnaeus

its

likes.

ORDER:

GENUS:

For

head.

is

Northern Barred Owl

easily recognizable

barred plumage,

because of

its

rounded and earless head, and the rather swollen appearance of its
neck plumage. A heavily built and rather obese-appeardistinctly

ing owl,

it

is

its

large

among North American


Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) the

surpassed in size

owls only by the

Owl (Bubo virginianus virginianus) and


Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa nebulosa). Because

Great Horned

SUBSPECIES

the

of the barred ruff encircling

its

throat

it

tends to have a

peculiar double-chinned appearance. There

is

always an

aspect of brooding thoughtfulness about the bird

NORTHERN BARRED

varia Barton

OWL
Latham

georgica

FLORIDA BARRED

OWL

and
an odd sense of innocence, rather than the fierce look
of the Great Horned Owl. It is distinguishable from the
latter owl by the fact that it is somewhat smaller, has no
ear tufts, and is a much grayer owl in over-all coloration.

The

horizontal barrings on throat

below

(Bangs)

helveola

TEXAS BARRED OWL

that, the

and upper breast and,

heavy vertical stripings are further un-

mistakable identity markings.

Rank

in

over-all

size

among

the

eighteen

species:

Fourth.

NORTHERN BARRED OWL


{COLOR PLATE

II)

SHAPE AT REST
Because of the manner in which

SCIENTIFIC

head

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Strix varia varia Barton. Original description

Strix

Barton; Fragments of the Natural History of


Pennsylvania, 1799, page II, based on a specimen from
varius

in the

it

tends to couch

its

plumage of neck and breast when perched,

the Northern Barred Owl seems almost to be neckless


and endowed with an especial chunkiness of body shape.
It rarely stretches its body position into a slim, elongated form for concealment when perched, as does the
Screech Owl (Otus asio sp.) and, to some extent, the
Great Horned Owl.

Pennsylvania. Former scientific names:


Syrnium nebulosum, Strix nebulosa, Strix varius.
Philadelphia,

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

OTHER NAMES
is so apparent when the
on a perch is carried over to its form in
flight. It tends to have a thick, lumbering, easygoing
aspect when flying, with a somewhat slower wingbeat
than that of the Great Horned Owl. In flight, the

The

hoot owl Because of its distinctive hooting cry.


la cholette rayee French-Canadian name meaning "The Striped (or Barred) Owl."
le chat-huant du nord French-Canadian name
meaning "The Hooting Cat of the North."
rain

owl

Because of

its

habit of hooting before a

rainstorm.

20

owl

heaviness of form that

at rest

wings tend

to

look stubby

and broad because

of

the

dense plumage of the body; actually the wings are quite


in

Barred

is

proportion to the body.

Owl

PATTERN OF FLIGHT

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

For such a large, bulky-appearing bird, it


light and graceful flier despite the fact that
beat rather slowly, heavily,

is

and methodically.

It rarely,

ever, soars

does

fly

which

mob

swiftly, especially

of pursuing crows.

can maneuver

it

swamp

and

quite high

ing to elude a

in

branches,

smooth and

little

is

is

bright

moonlit

way through

its

short

may

it

miraculous.

of

is

flat

and

made low

When

level trajectory

to the

overhead

pass

inches of a person and never betray

by the passing shadow.

320.1

(12.8").

Minimum
Maximum

307.3

Rank

in

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

330.0

mm.
320.5 mm.
3556 mm.

(12.6")

(12.9")

328.5

(12.1")
'13.0")

(12.&")
(14.0)

wing length among the eighteen species:

Fifth.

TAIL LENGTH

the

Species average: 235.2

Its

Male

its

night

Average

when attemptThe skill with

body never undulates in flight as


does that of the Snowy Owl. It is another extremely
silent flier, rivaling the Barn Owl in this respect. On a
flight

mm.

Male

extremely dense forest and

growth, intricately weaving

interlaced

324.3

wings

on motionless wings, although it will occasionally make long direct glides through the woods
while hunting. Such glides usually terminate in a graceful upward curve as the owl alights. It can and often

if

Species average

a very

its

its

Average

216.7

Minimum
Maximum

212.3

Rank

within

mm.

(9.3 ")

Female

mm. (8-5")
mm. (84")
mm. (9-o")

228.6

among

in tail length

mm.
mm.
mm.

253-7
247.4
260.4

(10.0")

9.7")

(10.3")

the eighteen species: Third.

presence except

gliding, the flight pattern

and the

BEAK LENGTH

glides are usually

ground, below the lowest limb

levels of

the surrounding trees.

Species average: 23.5

Measurements have been based on


9 males and 2 females.

21

mm.

(0.9").

Male

measured birds:
Average

23.3

Minimum
Maximum

21.

Rank

in

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

23.9

beak length

(0.9")

23.7

(0.8")

22.1

(0.9")

24.6

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.9")
(0.9")
(1.0")

the eighteen species: Fifth.

WEIGHT
LEGS, FEET,

Species average: 450.9 gr. (15.8 oz

Male

TALONS

Female

Average

395.8

gr.

(13.9 oz.)

506.0

gr.

(17.7 oz.)

Minimum
Maximum

330.0

gr.

(11.6 oz.

388.4

gr.

(13.6 oz.)

sparsely

(20.0 oz.)

651.2 gr.

(22.8 oz.)

sparsely feathered portion of the toes

Rank

in

569.3 gr.

weight

among

the eighteen species: Fourth.

Feathered to or near the base of the talons, but very

from the

last joint to

The naked

the talon.
is

gray, with the larger scales a slightly clearer yellow.


soles of the feet are

much deeper

or

a dull yellowish

yellow and

The

the talons

are a dark horn color near the base but deepening to

black at the

TOTAL LENGTH

tips.

bars or spots of
Species average: 497.7

mm.

for

(19.6").

Male
Average

484.1

Minimum
Maximum

407.9

Rank

565.2

in total

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

Female
(

19.1")

51

1.3

(16.1")

452.1

(22.3")

613.7

among

1,092.2

mm.
mm.
mm.

1,073.1

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

in

963.9
1,098.6

mm.
mm.
mm.

a buff

dun brown. The


and also not

this size

feet are rather small

as strong as

might be

(17.8")

(24.2")

EYES AND VISION


Although not especially small for the size of the owl,
the Northern Barred Owl's eyes seem small, because of
the concentric rings of dark brown encircling them on
the facial disks.

The seeming

solid darkness of the eyes,

impart a character of beadiness and small

(43.0").
size.

Female
(38.0")

1,003.3

mm
mm

(43.3")

1,1392

mm.

(42.3")

is

(20.2")

too, tends to

Male
Average

an owl of

the eighteen species: Fourth.

mm.

denser leg plumage

expected.

WINGSPAN
Species average:

The

white and marked with numerous but faint transverse

1,111.3

wingspan among the eighteen species:

(43-8'

Actually, the

scribed;

it

is

iris

is

not black as sometimes de-

a very deep brown with often very

and

(39-5'

demarcation between

(44.9'

pupil often seems to be bluish black.

Fifth.

there

is,

Northern Barred Owl

iris

pupil.

little

In contrast, the

To

the viewer

despite the slight beadiness of character about

21

them

the eyes, a sense of soulfulness and softness in

which gives the owl an appealing expression. The vision of the Northern Barred Owl is extremely keen at
night and quite good by day. Although like most owls it
is bedazzled by a sudden bright light at night, it can see
very well to hunt during the day and often ranges in
the daytime, especially when skies are overcast. So keen
vision

its

is

in

daylight that, although

against the brightness of the sky,

passing overhead

it

it

which the human

eye,
is

unaided by
not as good

Barn Owl's and on heavily overcast nights when

especially dark,

it is

squint

can see flying birds

binoculars, cannot see. Its vision at night


as the

may

it

prefers not to

fly.

EARS AND HEARING


As with North American owls in general, the hearing
of the Northern Barred Owl is very keen. Not only are
the ear cavities very large in order to pick up sounds of
extremely low intensity, they are asymmetrical in size
and shape, permitting highly accurate sound locating.
This owl will come from a distance of over 50 yards to
the faint squeaking of a mouse and can detect the running of a mouse on open hard-packed earth at half

when

that distance, even farther

across dried leaves or grasses.

(Tyto alba pratincola)

can

it

the rodent

is

rustling

As with the Barn Owl


strike

well

by sound

and the combination of eyes and ears working together makes this owl a deadly accurate hunter. Though
it may be sound asleep in its roosting tree and its locaalone,

known

tion

hearing

man

is

will

advance, the Northern Barred Owl's

in

so acute that,

find

it

even using great

stealth,

practically impossible to

a hu-

approach

To

calls.

attempt to imitate

these

well to written description.

The most common and

often heard utterance

the

first

The

three in the second being very clearly enunci-

deliberately

ated,

last

two

in

and

given,

on the

the hardest accent of the entire call

note and this sliding

is

is

The

dense and heavy and not

The

lead-

ing edges of the flight feathers are very well fluted for
fully silent flight.

The

adult birds have one complete

molt of their feathers during the summer and early autumn. This molt generally begins around mid-July or

August and
November. Flight

early

is

finished by late

ability

is

tone.

downward

next-to-last

in tonal quality to the

which slowly dwindles away.


The second most frequently given call, equally familiar and wild, is a very loud and strenuously uttered
four-syllable call of hoo-hoooo hoo-WAAAHHHHhhhh,
gradually fading away:

Often the Northern Barred


long tremulous

call

which

of the Eastern Screech

of harshness:

Another

is

Owl
much

Owl (Otus

livered with greater force

will give voice to

in quality like that

asio naevius)

but de-

and a more pronounced degree

WHOOOO-O-O-O-O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.
frequently given resembles the distant

call

apparent recognition
of

eight

sounding

like

rises

that of the Barn Owl.

in

final note,

is

notes,

call

it.

given back and forth be-

a loud but relatively uninflected


these

being crisply

and

issued

HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO-

HOO-HOO. Often there

MOLT
head and body

low

relatively

each group are closely melded, but with

it

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

of

is

nicknamed "Hoot Owl." This cry can be heard at a


distance of several miles or more on a still night and is
an impressive and rather enjoyable sound. It is comprised of two groups of four or five notes each, virtually
belched outward in the night air, very strongly accented and with a definite rhythm and imparting a
sense of wildness. Transposed to print, it can be written as HOO-hoo-to-HOO-0000, hoo-hoo-hoo-to-HOO00000, with the first two notes in the first group and

series

tight to the body, as

the

is

resonant and far-carrying hoot for which this bird

tween roosting owls

tufts.

of

basic calling patterns that lend themselves reasonably

An

ear

print

in

number

squeaks, and hootings. Yet there are a

bles,

coon hunters have often been fooled by

The Northern Barred Owl has no

calls

baying of a hound so very closely that experienced rac-

unheard.

plumage

all

would be an impossible undertaking, since so many of


them are weird shrieks, screams, cries, trillings, grum-

is

a throaty whistling call which

sharply at the end, not unlike a boy giving a sharp

whistle through his fingers.

Sometimes

this

is

heard

in

conjunction with a low whining note, also relatively uninflected, which might be written as whee-ooo-wheeeee-

ooo-we-oooooo.

These are only the basic and most commonly heard


There are many others uttered by the Northern

calls.

October or early

not noticeably

hampered

CALIFORNIA SPOTTED

by the molting.
Strix occidentalis occidentalis

OWL

(Xantus). Male. Piru Creek,

Ventura County, California, February

5,

197

1.

A.O.U. Num-

ber 369

VOICE

VI

Strix

Without doubt this is the most vocal of all the owls


of North America and the owl with the widest range of
22

Barred

occidentalis

NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL


caurina

(Merriam).

Female.

southwest of Prospect, Jackson County, Oregon,


1930.

Owl

A.O.U. Number 369-A

Six

miles

March

25,

Barred Owl. as well as numerous variations to each of


the

There

calls.

are, in addition, specialized calls

made

with relative infrequency which virtually defy written

Some

description.

almost uncouth in character. Others are

ears,

the

hair-raising

fierce,

human
much like

are coarse, guttural, and, to

of

shrieks

mating

alley

Owl

does not utter.

There is a marked difference between the voices of


his being
the male and female Northern Barred Owl
considerably deeper and somewhat mellower than hers.
The voices of the young birds differ also, being much

higher in tone than the female's.

make

Young birds will


when first on

a peculiar ratlike squealing cry

sexes are identical.

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


Not

and can be heard

at a distance of ioo

yards.

Almost

the wide variety of sounds

all

Northern

Owl

Barred

are

appalling

made by

When

perch, the owl swells visibly as

inflates its lungs,

thrusts

the

its

head forward and

Any

call.

it

slightly

downward

then

to expel

Owl

it is

not as great as with the Barn

(Tyto alba pratincola)

Barred

Owl

but then the Northern

many

does not lay as

eggs as does the Barn

No

thorough study has been made of the Northern


Barred Owl's expected lifespan in the wild, but in vari-

Owl.

ous zoos

it

known

has been

to

live

often actual concerts of calls between perched owls of

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
The crown, back

of head, sides of head, hindneck,

and upper breast are broadly and regularly

throat,

crossed with heavy rufous-brown to grayish-brown bars

Feathers of the belly, sides and flanks are buffy white,

each with a broad central vertical stripe of dark, warm,


gray brown, these stripes often overlaying one another to

form a pattern
dinally

down

coverts

which tend

thunderstorm.

broken and unbroken

of

have similar but rather narrower stripes


more of a reddish brown. The area of

but

may

is

usually a very pale buff

be immaculate white on some birds.


greater coverts have roundish white

on the outer webs

of each feather, but the lesser

coverts are a plain deep brown.


plainly crossed by five,

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE
in the previous section, there

difference in the voices of

male and female

birds.

Fur-

MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL

Canyon near

Strix occidentalis lucida 'Nelson). Female. Bear

Faixview,

Sierra

County,

New

Mexico, October 31,

1970.

A.O.U. Number 369-B


VIII

decided orange brown.

nebulosa

Salol,

Roseau County, Minnesota, April

ber 370

nebulosa

series of rather

Forster.

Female.
7,

Hay Creek

1963.

near

A.O.U. Num-

the

the

The

primaries are transversed

square spottings of pale brownish

on the outer webs of each feather,

this

brown becoming

deeper in hue on the inner

The

longest primary

usually has eight spots.

The

quills.
tail

has six or seven sharply

defined bands of pale brown, with the outermost band


tips of the feathers. Facial disks

from grayish white

OWL

Strix

or seven bands of pale gray-

margin. The primary coverts have four bands of brown,


which may range in shade from deep gray brown to a

continuing to the
GREAT GRAY

secondaries are

brown which becomes grayer near the edges, and


terminal band on each feather becomes white on

by a

VII

six,

The

ish

a distinct

is

The under-

to be

The middle and


spots

stripes longitu-

the front of the perched bird.

the vent, called the crissum,

daytime before the onslaught of a


in color,

As noted

well over twenty

years.

tail

in the

of this aspect of the North-

cycle. Infant mortality at the nest

or shortly after leaving

of the calls are just as apt to be uttered

during daytime as they are at night, and there are very


this species

known

is

life

separated by somewhat narrower pale buffy-white bars.


the

and decidedly
calling from a.

frightening to the superstitious.

a great deal

ern Barred Owl's

the

the hissing cry in lieu of a tonal call, but the hiss

eerie in quality

some-

also

As with other owls, this species also snaps its beak


loudly and hisses in a penetrating manner when
alarmed or angry. Young birds still in the nest often
is

invariably the larger of a pair

is

In coloration and markings, however, the

slightly so.

wing.

make

female

cats.

There are deep chucklings, harsh laughing sounds, maniacal gibberings and gabblings, disconsolate mutterings, howls, and yells. Occasionally there will even be a
decidedly disconcerting humanlike scream of pure agony.
Although the call of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo
virginianus virginianus) is a hooting somewhat similar
to the basic call of the Northern Barred Owl. the latter's
cry is never quite so deep and booming and it always
ends in a descending, prolonged trailing note, which the
Great Horned

ther, the

times quite noticeably larger and at other times only

five

to a pale buffy gray

range

and have four or

concentric semicircular rings of darker brown. Feath-

ers of the

eyebrows and lores are a grayish white, each

feather having a thin black shaft. There

Northern Barred Owl

is

a narrow

23

o<<>

brown

crescent of very dark

The

angle of the eye.

or black against the inner

impression

over-all

of cool

is

brown rather than the warm buffy brown overall impression of the Great Horned Owl, and the placement of stripes and bars on breast and belly is just
opposite that of the Great Horned Owl.
grayish

were fishing

woodland stream. At such

at night in a

times the owl shows remarkably

movement.
Equally, the owl evinces

apprehension over en-

little

tering towns or even rather large cities at night to

mice and

for house
species,

rats.

More

so than

which

but the neck, head, and

is

an incredibly

winging at

seen

it

agile

speed

top

seems the

bird must surely collide with the branches.

plumage on wings and

tail,

underparts are regularly

all

be

often

will

through cover so dense and interlaced that

JUVENILE
Basically similar to adult

and

it

remaining there long after

to nest, often

the nesting season has passed. It


flier

hunt

most other owl

remains rather closely attached to the area

it

selects in

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

human

fear of the

little

voice or

and broadly barred with buff white, buff, and brown.


The wing coverts, back, and scapulars are even more
broadly barred, with the brown barrings of a deeper
shade and each of the feathers tipped with white.

The Northern Barred Owl has earned the enmity of


many a trapper by stealing the meat used to bait the

On

traps.

from a

occasion

Goshawk away

will also bully a

it

and claim the carcass

kill

as

own.

its

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


The Northern Barred Owl

GENERAL HABITS AND

varia varia

by day.

is

it

does

its

the following night. Next to the Screech


asio sp.)

it is

the most

commonly

judge of speed and distance,


swiftly

it

readily

Strix

Owl

hunt

to

seen owl.

Owl (Otus
An accurate

seems to enjoy

A
if

is

rarely struck by a

relatively non-aggressive owl,

taken

when young.

apparent, however,

if

the bird

it

tames quite

Aggressiveness becomes

is

ing delight, even in the midst of winter. Its sense of


is

well developed

and

it

for

hardwood

forests

trees

it

will

also

well

and hold them if the


and numerous. Woodlands which
streams, swamps, marshes, and low mead-

The

if

habitat of this owl coincides very closely with

that of the

Red-shouldered Hawk, and the owl ap-

pears to be reasonably compatible with that bird, often

the

nests

its

and hunting by night the same areas that

hawk hunts by

day.

Occasionally the Northern Barred

posed in an isolated

tree,

Owl

lock,

will roost ex-

but more often than not

prefers the quiet seclusion of a dense,

humans lounging

well-es-

frequented.

mature

are

will often follow a scent

from considerable distances to where a trap has


been baited with a commercial trapping scent.
Not infrequently this owl will visit campsites, take a
low perch not very far from the fire and glare with
Sometimes

are

ows are ideal habitats for Strix varia varia, especially


the woods are a mixture of conifers and hardwoods.

trail

rather comical sternness at the

although

roosting,

isolated woodlots will attract

border lakes,

using
the habit of drinking

water frequently and bathing often, usually with seemsmell

particularly

tablished

Even

Thick

this owl.

pines and hemlock are especially

favored,

hungry.

The Northern Barred Owl has

tall

flitting

through the headlight beams of cars passirfg

along woodland roads at night, yet


vehicle.

habits,

tends to sleep throughout

so, it

swamp
The deeper and darker the

woods, the more they seem to attract

not so disinclined as the Barn

When

woodlands.

or

tangles

stands of dense
in

essentially a forest-lov-

ing bird and rarely strays too far from deep

CHARACTERISTICS
Although most often nocturnal

is

tall

it

pine or hem-

perching on a large limb very close to the bole of

the tree

and quite well camouflaged against the bark.

about.

even alight on the ground only a few

from the flames, evidently in the hope of catching


insects attracted by the glow. The authors on numerous
occasions have had Northern Barred Owls fly in and

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

feet

perch within the glow of a gas lantern by which they

For a bird of prey, the Northern Barred

commonly

gentle bird

and not easy

to

Owl

goad

is

an un-

to anger.

many other owls, even the very smallest, it


make any attempt to attack a human being,
even when that human is molesting its nest, eggs, or
young. More often than not when such occurs, it will
simply fly off and return later when the human has
Unlike so

will rarely

Detail of the upperside surface of the outstretched left wing

Northern Barred Owl [Strix varia varia). Note how


wing coverts overlay the feathers behind and beneath them,
and also the flutings on the leading edge of the flight feathers,
which permit soundless flight.

of a

gone away. Occasionally a more aggressive bird of the


species will fly to a nearby tree and give voice to a series
of hair-raising cries, hissings,

Northern Barred Owl

and beak snappings, but


25

without following through with an attack on the


truder. Yet, despite this,

a fight

unavoidable.

is

it

in-

a bird of great courage

is

opponent,

terrible

if

strikes

it

and deadly clutchings


of its sharp talons. Once in a while an individual bird
becomes extremely combative and will readily attack an
intruding human, swooping down from above and attempting to bite and tear with beak and talons as it
passes, and often with marked success. It does not as often turn over onto its back on the ground and strike out
with its claws, as so many North American owls do.
As usual, man is the worst enemy. Though well prowith

flailing wings,

many

tected by law in

bites,

Northern Barred Owl

areas, the

numbers

great

falls in

still

savage

to the

destroy the Northern Barred Owl, which

much

match

ply no
fierce

Northern Barred Owl

is killed and eaten. Its only hope


and a slim one at that, is flight with the greatspeed and agility possible through the densest of

of escape,
est

know

should

Barred

Owl have

this

owl a

it

as

abundant

its

habitat

destroyed in the

name

of progress, fewer

and fewer

causes the most

Though crows
kill

it,

enemies

natural

strife

for

of

crow
the Northern Barred Owl.
are

rarely inflict injury

concerned,

the

on the owl, much

one crow discovers such an owl

as

less

at roost

sends out vocal notice of the fact in strident

within minutes

all

dive in at the big owl, causing

and

calls,

it

Time
to

after time they

duck and

flinch in

order to avoid being struck by the strong sharp beaks of

but to no

avail.

It glares

Eventually

and snaps
it

flies,

its

beak

followed closely by

woodland cover or by flying very


high and with great speed away from the area.
The Goshawk is also an enemy, and with some justification, since the Northern Barred Owl will not in-

into the heaviest of

simply

fend

its

flee in silent

its

kill

prey.

Usually

the

Goshawk

anger, but occasionally

it

with vigor. Usually neither bird

will

may
is

de-

badly

or the other of the two birds has been killed

though

more often the Goshawk than the Northern


Barred Owl.
Next in line as enemies come the multitude of
smaller woodland birds which gang up on the roosting
owl with almost as much effectiveness as do the crows.
Flickers and other woodpeckers, blue jays, chickadees,
red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, shrikes, warblers, wrens, and

many others join in the affray with great enthusiasm


and make life generally unpleasant for the big owl until

at last

swiftly

26

it

away

is

forced to rouse

itself sufficiently

to

up

largely to rodents

Two

is

up

size

of

its

feet,

it

prefers

and occa-

to the size of a squirrel

to the size of

itself

a quail.

principal hunting methods are employed and

both are

wing

into the deeper recesses of the forest.

effective.

woods or

The

isolated

in

meadows and

first

trees

merely to perch

the attack with uncanny accuracy.


to

frighten potential prey into

soon as the quarry

flushed, the

is

it

they try to

flee,

and while

small birds on the wing,


as they stir

though

it

on

owl pounces. Not

it is
it

in

broad daylight

and again somewhat

will be attacked,

One was
fleeing
its

is

toll

on

And,

has been witnessed hovering over

pouncing successfully upon one of the

it

in-

not swift enough to catch

does take a certain

their roosts during the night.

Owl

a covey of quail

cessful,

woodland or
movement. As

of

not a customary method of hunting, the

is

Northern Barred

Now

arrows to

will nail squirrels against limbs or trunks as

frequently

them

it

The second method

wing through the heaviest tangles

swamp and

the

in

wait. Sooner or later the incredibly sharp

and eventually

birds.

larger prey than normally

but even though the owl might be suc-

some sort of difficulty.


pounced upon the back of a

usually not without

witnessed as

adult

it

cottontail

rabbit.

Balancing

itself

with

wings, as the rabbit continued trying to escape, the

Detail of the underside surface of the outstretched wing of


a Northern Barred Owl (Strix varia varia). Note overlay of
underwing coverts on feathers above and behind them; also
Outings on leading edges of flight feathers, and emargination

of the outermost primaries.

Barred

is

overlooking marshlands or

hearing detects the movements of prey and

hurt in such an altercation, but there have been times

when one

hunter that the

than does Bubo, confining

smaller prey

sional birds

in anger,

before finally eluding the pursuers by arrowing swiftly

take

versatile

Northern Barred Owl

the

is,

weaker nature and smaller

much

is

the noisy throng and often routed three or four times

frequently

Owl

it

crows within hearing have hastened

to the scene to join the attack.

the passing crows.

Great Horned

nevertheless highly skilled as a predator. Because of the

they torment the big bird of prey unmercifully.

As soon

Although certainly not the

is

the impressive birds survive.

Where

does the Northern

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

a tragedy, since Strix

no longer anywhere nearly

is

respect

this

fine

once was, and as more and more of

varia varia
as

it's

in

a very slight edge over the Great

Horned Owl.

better see the bird as a threat

both cases

to their poultry. In

Only

cover.

forest

trophy to have mounted and hung from their wall;

who

sim-

is

any time for the considerably more


Bubo. Almost invariably in such encounter, the
at

who

in particular,

encounter the bird most often) see in


farmers

not very

is

smaller than the attacker. Strix varia varia

guns of hunters and

Hunters (squirrel hunters

farmers.

The one truly dangerous natural enemy is the Great


Horned Owl. Just as Bubo virginianus virginianus will
attack, kill, and devour the Barn Owl, so also will it

Owl

H
^v

owl strove

to drive

talons inward deeply

its

enough

running,
bling up, and running again the rabbit carried
kill

the

owl on

mammal. For 84
back

its

yards

until at last

falling,

owl then used

its

Unable

the heavy prey, the owl tore

to

devoured

lift
it

the big

could run no more.

it

The

strong beak to break the rabbit's neck.

in place, all but

flew ponderously

away

to

one hind

Strix varia varia

to

scram-

it

apart and

foot,

and then

perch and digest the large

turtles

and

Though

favors hunting in woodlands, swamps,

and
the margins of marshes and meadows, the Northern
Barred Owl also frequently hunts in quite open country as well as in close proximity to farm buildings. Now
and again it comes well into cities seeking prey and is a
not uncommon visitor to town dumps and railroad
yards where mice and rats proliferate.
Like the Great Horned Owl, the Northern Barred
Owl will often catch fish in shallow waters, wading in
knee-deep after them in sluggish streams and ponds,
snatching them with the talons and dragging them
ashore. Usually these fish are of a size which can be
swallowed whole, and they are most often horned pout,
suckers, chubs, and small carp.
it

Strix varia varia rarely carries prey in

the prey

is

small enough,

its

talons.

If

carried in the beak. If too

it is

tortoises.

safety of

its shell.

have

these

make up a

less often,

Among
Owl will

Almost without exception, prey that can be swallowed


whole is juggled about in the beak until properly in
position to be swallowed head foremost. This holds true
even with small mice, which the owl could swallow
if it

choose

to.

to

eat

crayfish,

and many

spiders,

dids, grasshoppers,

The bulk
mice and

Northern Barred

the

scorpions,

snails,

large

slugs,

large insects such as beetles, katy-

and

crickets.

of this owl's diet, however,

rats,

along with other small

is

comprised of

mammals

chipmunks, ground

squirrels,

rels, flying squirrels,

and sometimes fox

such as

gray squirrels, red squir-

young
and

squirrels,

hares and rabbits, bats, shrews, and moles.

Now

again this owl will successfully take even some larger

mammals

such as opossums, mink, and smaller wea-

sels.

Its

upon young chickens,


and other barnyard poultry accounts

habit of preying occasionally


pigeons,

for the enmity harbored by


is

many

a farmer for this owl,

taken so rarely that the species can

hardly be considered a major threat in


Pellets

this respect.

compacted undigestibles are regurgitated


of about one to three per night. More often

of

at the rate

bird

life

than the

not the difficulty in pellet

some owl

species.

Usually one convulsive belching action sends the mucusslickened pellet shooting several feet out of the widely

opened mouth. This action is often followed by a ruffling of the feathers and a haphazard and brief preening of the plumage.
Excrement is generally of a darkish nature, rather
viscous in texture, and seldom expelled near the nest.
two or three ounces may be expelled in a
powerful evacuation as the owl leans forward on

As much

other woodpeckers, kingfishers, blue jays, towhees, jun-

or

and other sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, cardinals,


brown thrashers, robins and other thrushes, catbirds,
swallows, and
not as often birds as large as crows,
pigeons, ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, and some other
species of owls, particularly Screech Owls (Otus asio
sp.). Even Long-eared Owls (Asio otus sp.) have been

the ground.

cos

is

regurgitation that seems to plague

Barn Owl, Northern Barred Owls have been observed to


kill and eat a rather wide selection of birds of woodland, meadow, swamp and marsh, including mourning
doves, bobwhite quail, purple gallinules, flickers and

turtles are con-

other such amphibians as

animals,

invertebrate

leaving the nest. There

Somewhat more detrimental

than

reptiles other

than not these pellets are not expelled near the nest
site, but rather from the first perch the owl takes after

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

sideways with ease

some owls

salamanders.

size

nest, carrying the

owl with-

as

small part of the entire diet. Frogs are

freqently taken and,

but such prey

and make two or three trips to the


dismembered pieces in its beak.

this

peril,

cerned, some lizards and snakes are consumed, though

carried in the talons to the nest. This always seems to

though, and so the owl often

in flesh

their toes to turtles before being able

Where

ducks,

prey into chunks of manageable

embedded

talons well

Terrapins are taken by

chunks of

lost

it is normally devoured on the spot where


However, during the nesting season when there
are young birds at home to feed, some prey animals are

difficulty,

tortoises often fall prey, pro-

its

out hesitation, though not without

killed.

will tear the larger

Box

before the tortoise has a chance to withdraw into the

large for that,

be done with

will

viding the owl can get

to kill them.

meal.

one of the few North American


bother catching and eating

is

owl subspecies that

swift,
its

as

perch and

briefly raises

its

tail.

The

feces

may be

squirted with such force that they travel a dozen feet

more on a horizontal

trajectory before dropping to

COURTSHIP AND MATING

killed as prey.

Among

fish,

bullheads, chubs,

water

28

fish

suckers,

Courtship

other relatively slow-

early spring

horned pout, perch,


eels,

carp,

and

bluegills,

callings,

are taken.

Barred

Owl

normally begins

in

late

winter or very

and involves a wide variety of antics and


especially on the part of the male bird, but

copied to some extent by the female. As with most of


the cries made by this owl, duplication of its courtship
calls in print

is

very difficult and

less

than satisfactory

The

above the ground

thirty feet

Failing to find

at best.

will

The mood instilled by them, however, is almost always


broken when they conclude in a strange chuckling which

nest being used by a

degenerates

into

what sounds

like

weird,

rather insane cackling. These, in turn, often give


to calls not unlike

way

the squalling of an angry bobcat.

Interjection of the female's voice

is

infrequent but

al-

ways noticeable because of the higher pitch of her


voice, as much unlike his as the broken and squeaky

cawing of a fledgling rooster

unlike the strong crowing

is

on

display, the

his branch,

open

male

will often

crouch low

and lean

wings,

so

far

seems he cannot possibly maintain

his

grip or recover his balance, yet he seldom fails to

do

forward that

it

half

is

preferred.

almost certainly adopt as

nest of a

hawk

its

own

When

the

latter

the

used,

is

and hollows out the chamber to


accommodate itself better. If an old bird nest is used,
very little is done to improve it beyond possibly enlarging the hollow and, far more rarely, vaguely lining it
with a few bunches of grasses or clusters of pine
needles. Now and again the rim will be rebuilt slightly,
with some fresh twigs or sticks.
owl tears

off the top

peculiar situation sometimes develops in the nest-

Northern Barred Owl.

selection of the

in to share

of laying

Red-shouldered

It

find

will

Hawk and move

with that bird of prey, even to the point

it

own

its

eggs alongside those of the hawk's.

The owl broods the eggs by day and the hawk by night.
The outcome of such an arrangement is not definitely
known, although

it

is

highly unlikely to be successful

for either bird.

Failing to find an abandoned nest to take over as its


own, the Northern Barred Owl will occasionally build
own nest one of the exceptions among North
its
American owls. However, such a nest is so slovenly and

his

inexpertly constructed

Since the two. owls eventually

fly off

together follow-

fall

quite often

eggs

the

is

sometimes on the ground, but most often

heavily leafed oak tree near a river or lake

has been infrequently observed and poorly described,

used.

evidently similar to the copulation of other owl

first

The

may be

nest

major crotch of the

tree, or as

February or early March, but on occasion

may be

de-

the Northern Barred Owl

ing,

same

often

is

located as low as 20 feet in the

high as 60 feet in

the uppermost sturdy branches. If successful in

Courtship and mating almost always occur in late

to

pines or other dense conifers, but a large-limbed,

ing the male's courtship antics, the actual copulation

species.

will

fall

through holes in the bottom.

their death

in

that

out and be smashed, or the hatchlings will

Nesting

it is

varia

abandoned

the

or crow and sometimes even the leafy

nest of a fox squirrel.

either.

but

chips or

hole about

of a full-grown rooster.

During the

a suitable cavity, Strix varia

As the male flies to the female and takes up a perch


in an adjoining tree or in the same tree some distance
from her, he engages in a complex series of bobbings,
weavings. wing flappings, and vocal presentations. Almost all the cries given at this time are emphatically uttered and rather thrilling to hear. Some are little short
of spectacular, while others border on being sounds that
can best be described as uncouth. While most are issued
with the full power of the lungs and carry great distances, now and again a series of shorter, softer, and
more rhythmical calls are uttered which are far more in
keeping with the love cooings that one might expect.

quickly

wood

eggs are merely laid on the rotting

other debris on the bottom of the cavity.

is

inclined

to

its

use

nest-

the

nest in successive vears.

layed until as late as early April.

ANNUAL BROODS,

EGGS

NEST,

NESTING HABITS
There
set of

is

only one brood per year, although

eggs

second

set

is

destroyed, the pair will

is

laid in

On

about three weeks.

As long

first

mate again and a

casions even a third set will be laid


similarly destroyed.

the

if

if

rare oc-

is

if

one can be found which

is

No

is

are

by no means un-

occasions four are

unmarked

suc-

From vaguely round-ovate

suitable.

In

nesting materials are brought in from outside.

laid,

and very

only one.

Shape

such cases the cavity must normally be roomy and quite


deep.

rarely there

rare

eggs are the most com-

Pure,

however, there will be no other.


Although the nest is most often the abandoned nest
of a Red-shouldered Hawk or Crow, the Northern
Barred Owl shows a preference for nesting in a natural
hollow

On

Two

Color

cessful,

tree

common.

nesting

although three

is

the second

as the first laying

Number per
mon number,

white.
to

very

nearly

round.

Somewhat more granulated than those of


Owl; enough so that there is a faint sense of
roughness to the touch. Oddly, some Northern Barred
Owl eggs have been observed which had a definite
glossiness to them, but normally they are dull and not
Texture

the Barn

at all glossy.

Northern Earred

Owl

2g

Average egg

Size

of 86 eggs,
1.7")

50.0

is

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

mm.

long by 41.9

Extreme measurements are

wide (2.o"X

length:

55.5
42.5

width:

45.0

width:

37.1

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

As with othei owls, hatching is


hatchling emerging as much

(2.2")

first

(1.8")

een days before the final one emerges. The newly


hatched owlets have their eyes closed and are clad in

(1.5")

Eggs seldom,

Midwest:

ever,

if

follow

February

earliest,

April 30; normally between

latest,

March 6 and

25;

April

and
They are very weak

food into tiny

continues for the

March

earliest,

Southern:

March

latest,

February 17;

earliest,

mally between February 27 and

at

April 25; nor-

latest,

March

June 4, nor-

three weeks of their

sealed. It

is

at

lives.

time their eyes are

this

not until near the end of the

become

show a marked

still

week that

as this oc-

activity within the

mostly a poorly controlled ac-

is

and somewhat disruptive

tivity

first

As soon

partially opened.

curs they begin to

confines of the nest. It

25.

tear the

them. This food-rending process

whining, peeping sound which increases in volume with

the eyes

29.

and parents must

first

is

the length of the back.

of the fourth day, they begin to utter a

each passing day, but

and March

18; nor-

21.

Eastern: earliest, February 28;

mally between

May

13; latest,

and April

first

down

silky

bits for

By the end

Northern:

as fourteen to eight-

a fairly thick covering of fluffy white down, which


particularly soft

3-

mally between April

at intervals, with the

(1.7")

one another by an interval shorter than 48 hours; sometimes as much as a week separating them.
dates

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS

as follows:

length:

Interval of egg-laying

Egg-laying

YOUNG AND FAMILY

based on the measurements

size,

mm.

the nest,

to

with oc-

casional dire results. Holes are torn in the bottom of

the

if

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS
Although incubation
with the laying of the

is

generally considered to begin


egg, there

first

some reason

is

to

believe that incubation begins even before laying, since

embryos have been found

relatively well-developed

eggs removed

on the

from the female's oviduct.

however,

nest,

maximum

days to a

is

Incubation

minimum

stated to be a

of 30 days, with the

in

of 21

most normal

duration evidently being close to 28 days.

done by the female, with


the male bringing her food during this period. OcAlmost

all

the incubation

is

casionally, however, especially


to drink or bathe, the

male

when

will

the female wishes

assume the incubating

when

varia

Strix

related Spotted

among

are

along with the very closely

subspecies,

Owl

subspecies (Strix occidentalis sp.)

the least aggressive of North American owls

where protection of nest is concerned. Often a human


can approach to within 10 feet without the brooding
bird

taking alarm and flying

birds

will

pay very

little

human, coming and going

off.

In some cases the

attention

to

at the nest as

if

Now
in

will

nest

two raptors seem to get along


well enough, without one or the other attempting to
is

nesting, but the

cause problems to either the adults or young birds. In


fact, the adult birds

tend to watch the activities of the

and are

to exposure.

body.

The new

sooty-brown banded

tips,

and buff colored

closer to the bird's

breast feathers are quite similar, though

The belly and


now have long fluffy down feathers, and even
longer down feathers yet are on the thighs. These
ventral down feathers are yellowish white to pure white
considerably paler in over-all coloration.

flanks

at the tips, but a light buffy color at the base. It


this

is

at

time that the wing feathers begin to sprout, but

the rectrices

By

tail

feathers

are not yet evident.

the end of the second


all

week

after the final egg has

brooding of the baby birds ceases and

attention of both parents

home enough food

to satisfy the

By the end of the


very active, but more sure
spring.

third

demands of their
week the babies

off-

now and

ca-

of themselves

pable of keeping themselves from falling should they


advertently step into a hole.
first

full

devoted toward bringing

is

It

is

are

in-

at this time, as well,

evidence of aggressive and defensive

Between the beginning of the fourth week and the


ending of the sixth week, the young birds leave the
nest for the

first

time and take up positions on branches

nearby. Although they rarely


times

it

happens.

If so,

stage,

some-

the young bird flutters

down-

fall

at

this

ward and usually lands unharmed. It will then remain


on the ground beneath the nest tree and be fed there
by the parents.

By the seventh week the downy plumage has become

other species with some degree of fascination.

30

succumb

broadly white at their

that they give

and then the Northern Barred Owl

fall, finally

across the center

characteristics.

a tree right next to another where a Red-shouldered

Hawk

are

intruding

were not there at all, though he may have climbed to


within a few feet of the nest.

through

fall

From the second to the third week, the woolly


white down begins being pushed out by the secondarydown, which is called the first downy plumage. On
both back and wings these distinctive downy feathers

the person

an

birds

they strike lower limbs or the ground or,

surviving the

hatched,

or brooding position.

and baby

structure

killed

Barred

Owl

The white tips of the feathers of


much more conspicuous now. Those

quite well developed.


the upperparts are

become irregularly spotted or


barred with a medium brown over a general coloration of gray white. Little of the base color of buff on

of the underparts have

these feathers shows now.

It

is

at this time

that the

molt into the first-winter plumage begins and the

first

firm feathers to appear are those on the scapulars

and
and

back. Next to appear are the long feathers of flanks


belly,

each having a broad brown stripe

down

the center.

All these feathers are fully developed before the horizon-

upper breast

tally encircling of the

the

true "bars"

are well developed.


Flight

is

attempted between the twelfth and fifteenth

week, though usually with poor results at


a few days at

least,

first

and, for

the entire family of owls finds

itself

on the ground near the nest tree. However, as the


wings quickly strengthen and flying skills improve, they
move back up into the branches, though not to the
nest, and continue to be attended by the parents. During their brief flights at this time they tend to squeak
like
is

a family of

rats.

Plumage

the soft

and

of body, wings,

and thighs

well developed, but that of head

is

tail
still

downy juvenal plumage.

Although the

young birds become proand more dextrous, they continue to


be fed and attended by the parents throughout the remainder of the summer and possibly even longer. By
late September the young birds have their full dress
of first winter plumage and equal the parent bird in
flights of the

gressively longer

size.

Their coloration at

the parents

red

brown

except

this stage

that

they

in general tone

are

much

is

NORTHERN BARRED OWL


Strix uaria varia Barton

like that of

somewhat more

than the more gray brown

and with buff-colored instead of white


is slightly more pale
buff on the underparts and in the light bars of wing
and tail.
As the end of the first year is reached, the young
birds are wholly indistinguishable from the adults.

of the adults,

bars on the hindneck. Also, there

North Carolina, through northwestern South Carolina


and northeastern Georgia, angling northward again
from this point to southeastern Virginia, but not in
coastal areas until about the mouth of Chesapeake
Bay.

More

casual in the southeastern tip of

District of

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Northern and central British Columbia (rare, HazelCreek, Liard Crossing), southeastwardly through

tine

and

north

McMurray),
central
yot,

central

Saskatchewan,

south-central

Manitoba

Alberta,

(Fort

(Chemawawin),

and southern Ontario (Ingolf, Port Arthur, AmQuebec (Montreal, Godbout,

Yukon and

Mackenzie, northern Saskatchewan, Alberta,

and Manitoba, and sometimes southern Keewatin, to


the area of Churchill Bay, Manitoba, and southward
along coastal Hudson Bay and James Bay, to southwestern Labrador and, more often, much of Newfoundland and islands of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Occasionally to northern Texas panhandle, central Oklahoma and Arkansas, southern Tennessee, northern Alabama and Georgia.

Moose Factory),

Anticosti Island),

Nova

Scotia (Pictou), Prince

Edward

and south through northwestern Minnesota,


southeastern North Dakota, all but northwestern South

Island,

Dakota, eastern

Wyoming

MIGRATION

(Bear Lodge), and eastern

Colorado (Holyoke), to western Oklahoma (Kenton),

No

(Mountain Home), northern and


eastern Tennessee (Knoxville), down the Blue Ridge of

have a

northern Arkansas

distinct migration,
slight

ment during

Northern Barred Owl

although more northerly birds

tendency for somewhat southerly movelate

autumn.

Normally,

this

owl

is

3'

permanent resident within

WINGSPAN

range. There have been

its

several authenticated sightings in Louisiana during the

winter months.

About

five

than Strix

in the maximum figure


Maximum wingspan of the
at 1,270.0 mm. (50.0").

inches greater

varia

varia.

female has been recorded

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
The Northern Barred Owl

(Strix

varia

varia)

so often

is

the case, individual instances of poultry de-

struction are often enlarged all out of proportion to the

actual

damage done, and a blanket defamation

species

results.

Certainly

methods have improved,

Owl

in

this

loss of

virtually negligible.

is

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

is

reputedly destructive to half-grown poultry but, as

On

maximum

the

in

figure

of the

where poultry

poultry to the Barred

the whole, because of

upon rodents

extensive preying

age,

About a half-inch longer

than that of the Northern Barred Owl.

especially mice,

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,

its

rats,

and ground squirrels the species must be regarded as


far more beneficial than destructive and it should be
protected.

Unlike those of Strix varia varia, the toes are nearly

naked and with a somewhat grayer cast to the yellowish


coloration of the scales. There is a narrow strip of
short, bristly feathering on the outer side of the middle
toe, but this is not apparent except upon close, in-hand
examination.

FLORIDA BARRED OWL

{COLOR PLATE

III)

VOICE
The

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

very

is

much

that of the Northern

like

than in the northern race. Before intensive develop-

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

ment

Latham. Original description:


Strix georgica Latham, Index of Ornithology, Supplement, 80 1, page 15 (Georgia americana), based on a
specimen from southern Georgia. Former scientific
names: Strix georgica, Strix varia alleni.
Strix

voice

Barred Owl, although possibly even more vociferous

varia georgica

of Florida began, sometimes

upward
and

these owls could be heard calling back

of

100 of

forth to one

another in the same general area. There was a peculiar


pattern to the delivery of these

one bird

quiet,

Another

call.

usually

often

calls.

a female

After a period of

would

(but not always)

answer from some distance away

utter a loud

would
same note but

a male

in the

in tone, and this would be followed by calls


from three or four others in turn from different direc-

deeper

Then another

tions.

OTHER NAMES

called previously,

The Florida Barred Owl is called by most of the


same names by which Strix varia varia is known, as
well as one other
Allen's Barred Owl, a name rarely
in use now and formerly used in connection with the
previous subspecific name, Strix varia alleni.

with

the

would
of

which evidently had not


a very penetrating

issue

call

sounding

like

WHOOO-

WAAAaahhh aah-aah-WHOOO-WAAAaaahhhh.
stantly

upon conclusion

of this call the

variety of field sketches of the Barred


left,

from the

adult

call

UH-UH-UH-WHOOO-WAAA-

aaahhhh, or a different

Upper

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

sound

bird,

Owl

others

In-

would

(Strix varia).

male of subspecies Strix varia georgica

vicinity of Fort

Drum,

Florida.

Upper

right, roost-

ing posture of subspecies Strix varia varia in Schiller Park,

Considerably darker in over-all coloration than the

Northern Barred Owl, but basically similar


other respects.

It

in

most

little more inclined toward


on very low branches than is the more

tends to be a

regularly perching

northern race.

32

Illinois.

Middle right, month-old juvenile of subspecies Strix


from near Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio. Lower

varia varia
left,

after

slouched posture of the Schiller Park bird immediately

awakening and, lower

from below and preparing

Barred

Owl

right,

the

to take flight.

same bird disturbed

(W*<*

J^yeni

f} >^

le

breast

horizontally barred with pure white

is

snuff brown, showing

more

and deep

contrast between the bars

than

in Strix varia varia. Belly plumage ranges from


pure white to pale buffy cinnamon, streaked longitudinally with deep snuff brown and here also showing

more

contrast between
Northern Barred Owl.

and dark than

light

in

the

palm and

live

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


Favors mixed

hammocks

oak in the grasslands or


the

more northerly

parts of

preference for densely


is

of cabbage

tangled

in
its

range

wooded

it

swamplands. In
shows a marked

Roosting
normally closer to the ground than with Strix varia

varia, except in the cypress

Everglades, where roosting

river valleys.

heads of the northwestern

is

primarily near the upper-

most branches of bald cypresses when those


but not

in leaf,

when bare

trees are

of foliage.

FOOD
OWL

FLORIDA BARRED
Strix varia georgica

Much

Latham

that of Strix varia varia except for geo-

like

graphical variants such as marsh rabbits, cotton

rats,

young armadillos, occasional baby alligators,


and frequently fiddler crabs. Tends to prey upon
Screech Owls (Otus asio floridanus) more often than
the Northern Barred Owl.

occasional

join in,
sively,

sometimes in concert and sometimes succes-

with some birds giving utterance to the

first

suc-

and others giving voice to the second.


This cacophony would build as their voices came closer
and closer together, overriding one another until it was
a veritable bedlam of calls, and then very quickly all
the calls would die away and there would be silence
again. This phenomenon was most often heard im-

cession of notes

mediately preceding a severe thunderstorm,

although

such was not always the case.

NEST AND NESTING HABITS


and
March. Favored
include the tops of broken-off cabbage

Earliest nesting occurs shortly before Christmas

the latest

nesting

is

during the

sites

first

week

of

palms, cavities in the trunks of large live oaks, in low


crotches of longleaf pines in the midst of thick groves
of these trees,

The

nest

varia,

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

hawk

underparts tend to have a deep snuff-brown or sepia


coloration,

with

marked broadly

34

the
in

terminal

edges

of

white or buffy white.

the

feathers

The upper

Barred

in the hollow limbs of

hardwoods.

even in the case where the abandoned nest of

to 25 feet, but

The

and

normally lower than that of Strix varia

or crow

doned
Similar to the Northern Barred Owl, but darker.

is

hearted

nests.
effort,

is

used. Usual nesting height

sometimes up

to

is

65 feet high

The female evidently makes


when adopting the abandoned

from

15

in

aban-

half-

nest of

crow or hawk, to line it with bits of Spanish moss and


sometimes with a few feathers from her own breast,
though never as a rule in the latter measure.

Owl

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

EGGS
Egg

size

Owl than

averages slightly larger in the Florida Barred

Northern Barred Owl. Average length,

in the

based on the measurements of 37 eggs, is 51.1 mm.


(2.0") and average width is 43.5 mm. (1.7"). Extreme

smaller

Slightly
(Strix

varia

varia)

than

Northern

the

Barred

and a considerably more

Owl

pallidly

yellowish-colored race than either the Northern Barred

Owl

Owl

or the Florida Barred

{Strix varia georgica).

measurements included

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum
Egg-laying

March

dates

length

55.6

length

45.8

width

46.6

width

40.4

Earliest,

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(2.2")
(1.8")
(1.8")

LEGS, FEET,

(1.6")

December

23;

TALONS

latest,

The

normally between January 6 and February

toes are naked, as in Strix varia georgica, but

without the side

bristles

down

the length of the middle

14.

toe.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Central and western Arkansas

Rock

) ,

(Hot Springs,

Little

The Texas Barred Owl

southwestern Tennessee, northwestern to east-

Alabama, across central Georgia, coastal South


Carolina, and coastal southeastern North Carolina (to
Cape Hatteras
southward throughout all of Florida
and the Gulf Coast to eastern Texas. Though somewhat limited on the Florida Keys, this owl has been
reported on a fairly regular basis as far as Key West.
Especially abundant in the northern Everglades where
central

.1

even- suitable

hammock

seems to harbor at

least

is

much

paler in

its

coloration

than the Northern Barred Owl. All the lighter markings

much more

conspicuous than in the more northern


and the underlying coloration on the upperparts
ranges from pale yellow to yellowish cinnamon. The
wings and tail are especially pale.
are

race,

one

pair of them.

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


Confined almost entirely

and lowland

to

well-wooded river valleys

forests.

TEXAS BARRED OWL


{COLOR PLATE

IV)

EGGS
In color, texture, and shape the eggs are similar to
those of both Strix varia varia and Strix varia georgica,

but they are smaller than either.

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

43 eggs determined

the average

measurement of

length

and average width of 42.3 mm.


extremes of those measured were
(1.9")

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Strix

varia

helveola

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

(Bangs). Original description:

Syrnium nebulosum helveolum Bangs, Proceedings of


the New England Zoological Club, Volume 1, March
!
899; page 31, based on a specimen from Corpus
31
Christi, Texas. Former scientific names: Strix varia
albogilva, Syrnium nebulosum helveolum.

length:

53.6

length:

45.0

width:

46.5

width:

39.1

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

of 49.2

mm.

(1.7").

The

(2.1")
(1.8")
(1.8")
(1.5")

Florida

Egg-laying dates
1 1

Earliest,

January

latest.

normally between January 12 and February

Texas Barred Owl

March
7.

35

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Most limited
barred owls,

in
is

it

range of the three subspecies of


found from south-central Texas to

the adjacent Gulf Coast. Primarily found in Bexar

and
Nueces and Brazoria counties, and
probably northwestward as far as Tom Green county,

Lee counties

to

but in more limited numbers in


'

wardly portion of

its

range.

this

There

more northwestsome evidence

is

that this subspecies has been extending

limited degree over recent years

its

range

in

and casual specimens

are being recorded in counties outside the limits of the

above-described range.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
The Texas Barred Owl

is

considered

generally

to

be the most destructive to poultry of the three Barred

Owl
less

subspecies,

protected

primarily

because

of

poultry raising within

abundant and
very limited

its

range. Nevertheless, despite the fact that

upon poultry

to

some

extent, the

it

provides that

struction

chicken-feed storage areas.

TEXAS BARRED OWL


Strix varia helveola (Bangs)

36

Barred

Owl

it

it

will prey

does to the

is more than offset by the savsame poultry raiser through deof rodents which make extensive inroads into

individual poultry raiser


ings

damage

wood owl

Because of

its

preferred habitat.

xantus's owl After the original describer


species and this particular subspecies.

the

of

SPECIES
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

This

Owl and

Spotted

Strix occidentalis caurina

STRIGIDAE

the

and

two subspecies,

other

Strix occidentalis lucida

Owls (Strix
and South, to which they are
closely related and which they resemble to some degree
in general configuration, size, and habits.
are the western representatives of the Barred
of the East

varia sp.)

GENUS:

Strix Linnaeus

SPECIES:

occidentalis (Xantus

The

California Spotted

headed owl with

Owl

is

a rather large, round-

large, dark, rather soft eyes,

erally appealing facial character.

Its

and a gen-

most distinguish-

is the liberal and conspicuous spotting


on both the upperparts and underparts. The

ing characteristic

SUBSPECIES

of white
species

is

just

slightly

smaller than

the

Owl

Barred

species.

Rank

CALIFORNIA
SPOTTED OWL

occidentalis (Xantus)

in

size

among

the

eighteen

species:

Fifth.

NORTHERN

caurina (Merriam)

SPOTTED OWL

SHAPE AT REST

MEXICAN

lucid a (Nelson)

When

SPOTTED OWL

{COLOR PLATE

perched

is

a bulky owl, tending to crouch

flight.

V)

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

it

somewhat more than do the Barred Owls. It is also


decidedly more restless on a perch and often engages
in a peculiar and distinctly parrotlike movement. When
determined to sit still and stare, it does so with great
stubbornness, and it becomes difficult to force it into

OWL

CALIFORNIA SPOTTED

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

Strix occidentalis occidentalis (Xantus). Original description:

over-all

Syrnium occidentale Xantus, Proceedings

heavy, short-necked, large-winged bird

the Northern Barred

Owl

in

much

appearance when

like

flying.

of

Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Volume ii, signatures 15-19, August-September. 1859

the

(January 10, i860), page


from Fort Tejon, California.

193, based

on a specimen

FLIGHT PATTERN
Owl,

Basically similar to that of the Northern Barred

make long
Spotted Owl

although seemingly not as inclined to


glides to

OTHER NAMES
its

The

California

buoyant

in

the air for

its

undulation of the body during normal

distinctive call.

Because of the close

tionship to Strix varia sp., the Barred Owls.

perch.

with methodical, rather heavy wingbeats, yet


prisingly

hoot owl Because of


western barred owl

its

rela1

size.

it

There

is
is

flat
flies

sur-

no

flight.

Measurements have been based on 24 measured birds


males and 13 females.

California Spotted

Owl

37

WEIGHT
Species average: 446.9

Much

gr. (15.6 oz.).

Male

Female

Average

391.0

gr.

(13.7 oz.)

501.7 gr.

(17.6 oz.)

312. 1

gr.

(10.9 oz.)

383.6

gr.

(134

gr.

(18.0 oz.)

591

gr.

(20.7 oz.)

in

5135
weight

among

those of the Barred

like

Owl

species of

oz.)

the eighteen species: Fifth.

somewhat smaller than might be expected for a bird


size, and they are not as powerful in gripping
and earning as those of some smaller species of owls
are

of

its

on

this continent.

The

legs are well feathered,

but the

The

toes are bare for the final half of their length.

where

scales,

TOTAL LENGTH
mm.

Species average: 472.1

461.6

Minimum
Maximum

389.3

Rank

in total

soles

The

482.6

(15.3")

456.5

mm.
mm.

(21.8")

606.3

mm

(18.0")

EYES AND VISION

2 3-9")

the eighteen species: Fifth.

As

Species average: 1,078.1

mm.

(42.5").

Male

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

mm

in

mm.
mm.

942.0
1,092.8

Female
(4 ! -9")

1,092.2

(37.1")

993-4

(43.1")

1,130.5

mm.
mmmm.

(43")
(39-i")
(44.5")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Sixth.

mm.

Species average: 327.8

324.1

Minimum
Maximum

322.8

Rank

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

326.4

of the Strix

occidentalis

somewhat smaller than they


actually are, although this is not quite as pronounced
in the California Spotted Owl and the other Spotted
Owls as it is in the Barred Owls because of a lesser
contrast between the lightness and darkness of the
rings. The irides are a warm, deep gray brown in
color but with slightly more demarcation between iris
and pupil than in the Barred Owls. Vision is excellent,
day or night. Full sunlight seems to have no particularly disturbing effect on vision, and the pupils are
the eyes seem

may

at times

seem almost

to

size

tnat they

be absent.

(12.9").

Male
Average

make

disks

capable of contracting to such pinpoint

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

around

in the Strix varia species, concentric rings

species

WINGSPAN

1,063.9

clearly colored.

(19.0")

the eyes on the facial

Average

more

scales are

talons are jet black for their entire length.

(18.6").

(18.2")

among

length

The

of the feet are a slightly brighter orange yellow.

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

552.5

Female
(12.8")

331.5

(12.7")

325.1

(12.9")

355-5

mm.
mm.
mm.

(13. 1")

EARS AND HEARING

(12.8")
(14.0")

wing length among the eighteen species: Sixth.

Auditory cavities that are asymmetrical

in

both

and placement on the head are of great aid


California Spotted

Species average: 231.4

mm.

Minimum
Maximum

210.

Rank

mm.
mm.
mm.

220.0

in tail

length

Owl (Tyto alba) and


From a perch about

(9.1").

Male
21 5.1

in locating prey

247.0

(8.3")

232.2

mm.
mm.

(8.7")

254.5

mm

Owls
high and

the Barred

50 feet

yards distant, the California Spotted

Female
(8.5")

among

Owl

size

to

the

through a

tri-

angulation process similar to that used by the Barn

TAIL LENGTH

Average

toe

a dusky orange yellow on top,

visible, are

and the larger

Male
Average

the

Owl

East and South, the feet of the California Spotted

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,

9.7")

ingly locate the source of the

9.2")

mouse running

Strix varia^
at

Owl

least

will

sound made by

fifty

unerra

pine

an expanse of solid rock. As in


if not
the case of the Barred Owls, it is most difficult
impossible
to creep up unheard on a sleeping Caliacross

(10.0")

the eighteen species: Fourth.

fornia Spotted Owl.

BEAK LENGTH
Species average: 22.1

mm.

(0.9").

Male
Average

21.5

Minimum
Maximum

20.3

Rank
38

in

22.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

beak length

IX

SAW- WHET OWI.

Aegolius acadicus acadicus (Gmelin). Female. Lac Etchemin,


Sainte Germaine, Quebec, Canada. A.O.U.

Number 372

Female
(0.9")

22.6

(0.8")

21.2

(0.9")

23.5

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.9")

QUEEN CHARLOTTE

OWI.

(0.8")

Aegolius acadicus brooksi (Fleming). Male. Vicinity of Mas-

(0.9")

set,

the eighteen species: Sixth.

Spotted

Queen Charlotte

ary 28, 1938. A.O.U.

Owl

Island, British

Number

372-.

Columbia, Canada, Janu-

xsuXCaAc^

%yA*&A+4fo

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

A
is

MOLT
headed, with no vestige of ear

is

Its

plumage

molting

nual

bird,

is

August,

replacing

their

all

October or early November. Loss of the


and widespread throughout the

feathers by late

feathers

Adult birds begin their an-

flight.

early

in

so staggered

however,

no

that

hampered during

flight

facility

appears

to

only,

whooo-whooo-WHOO-WHOO.

basic call, given by the female, has been

likened to a turkeylike chuckle or low, pleasant, dove-

be

this process.

which sounds like: COOO-COOO-coo-coo.


male and female birds utter a call of

like call

fluffy,

edges for soundless

fifth

is

though not quite as much so as that


of the Northern Barred Owl. All flight feathers have
the flutings of soft, comblike serrations on their leading

dense and

The

round-

decidedly

tufts.

which may be given by the male

call,

carrying cry of:

occidentalis

occidentalis

Strix

fourth

a melodious yet somewhat guttural and rather far-

Finally, both

two variants which has much of the quality of the calling of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus virginianus), though not as resonantly given. At times it will
sound something like: hoo-ah HOO-ah. At other times

an extra note will be added and more emphasis placed


on the final note: hoo-ah-HOO-HOO-AHHH!
There are, of course, numerous variations as well as
other calls which do not lend themselves to emulation
in print

strange

ing whines.

VOICE

whinnies, squeals, rattlings, and grat-

study of the calls turns up an odd factor:

with but few exceptions, almost

all

of the calls are given

in a series of four notes, usually in couplets of

As with the Barred Owls, the California Spotted


Owl is gifted with a wide repertoire of calls and with
a surprising number of variations to each call. In essence, however, there are six basic calls which differ
enough for some attempt at written description. The
most ordinary call, uttered by both male and female
though evidently more often by the female is an
explicit enunciation of three equally loud and identically toned notes, with the first two of them voiced
rather rapidly and then a three-second to five-second

two.

What

may have

significance this

Generally speaking, the

is

calls of the

two and

not yet known.

Spotted Owls are

more muted and therefore not quite


ening to humans as those of the Barred Owls.
slightly

as fright-

pause before the third. This calling has the distinctive

sound

of:

HOO-HOO

HOOOO.

Another group of notes comprising one


uttered by the male only, whose voice

is

may be

call

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE
As noted, there is a slight difference in tonal quality
between the voices of male and female birds. The female is slightly larger as a rule, though this size differ-

vaguely deeper
ential

and more resonant than the female's. This call has a


decidedly canine quality and from a distance sounds
remarkably like the baying of a hound. The four notes

in

is

many

not as visually evident in Strix occidentalis as


other owl species. There

is

no sexual difference

in their coloration or markings.

of this call are strung together in a rapid delivery, but


sliding

upward

the scale

in

and becoming quite em-

phatic with the final note. It sounds like:

oh-ooh-oou-

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

ooOOWWW!
The

female, and possibly the male as well, sometimes

utters a sort of

warning whistle

approaches or leaves the

to

has the quality of a

It

nest.

her young as she

human might make by

soft whistling a

pursing his

lips

and whistling with indrawn air rather than with exhaled air. The whole call has a steadily rising inflection
and lasts for about four seconds, sounding similar to:
wheee-e-e-e-E-E-E.

RICHARDSON

12, 1970.

and longevity
other two

Mud

Owl

California

Spotted

but

not unreasonable

it

development

is

to

consider

or the

that

in

they

would approximate those of the Barred Owls. It is


known that captive Spotted Owls have lived for as long
as twenty-one years and they may possibly live half again

One

Lake, Aroostook County,

mile

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

Maine,

LONG-EARED OWL

Unlike the Barred Owls, the California Spotted

Asio otus wilsonianus (Lesson). Male. Vicinity of Meredosia,

366

of the

subspecies,

view of parallel

A.O.U. Number 371


XII

Brown Countv,

have been made concerning the mortality

OWL

Aegolius funereus richardsoni (Bonaparte). Male.

January

studies

that long.

XI

from west shore of

Few

Illinois,

October

23,

1899.

A.O.U. Number

Owl

and regularly spotted down the length of breast


and belly, with the spots on the upper breast smaller
is

finely

California Spotted

Owl

39

and gradually enlarging as the pattern continues downward. The ground color is a rich, warm cinnamon
brown, each feather having a narrow central line of
the brown separating the pure white into two spots on
opposing webs of the same feather. Often, but not
always, there is a horizontally elongated white patch on
the throat which is about twice as long as it is wide.
Almost always, but with occasional exceptions (especially among female birds), there is a narrow but fluffy
stripe of pure-white feathering running from mid-breast
to belly and widening toward the bottom. The tail is
basically

brown, crossed by a regular

series of thinner

and terminating in a thin white marginDark buff spots on the primaries alternate regularly
with similar-width spots of deep brown. Eyebrows and
lores are white near the top and shade into buff near
white

lines

the bottom,

beak

enclosing the

back-to-back-crescent

in

formation.

evident

clearly

Facial

are

disks

warm cinnamon
semicircles of

buff overlaid by (usually) three narrow


deep red brown emanating outward from

the eyes in concentric fashion.

The

deep brown black. The center

facial

line

rim

gravely winks one eye, then the other, opens each in


turn, closes both together

and then

Occasionally

simultaneously.

blinks both

perch

will

it

open
long

for

moments with one eye shut and the other widely open.
More than any other North American owl species,

it

seems to take tremendous delight in preening itself,


rarely sitting on a perch for long without doing so. First
it

shakes

one by one begins


with

tip

and then

feathers very carefully into place

its

preen away every frayed feather

to

beak, contorting

its

usual positions as

it

the most

into

itself

works. Very often

un-

asleep in

falls

it

the midst of such preening, then awakens with a start

and continues the


and reluctance

to

Because of

job.

to take flight,

ity

observe, once located.

uncommon

its

it

is

Unfortunately,

tively rare experience to observe

one

it

is

tameness when approached have given

tion for stupidity which

a rela-

in the wild at

any

and gen-

time. Its evident fearlessness, mild curiosity,


eral

placid-

an interesting owl

a reputa-

it

largely undeserved.

is

a very

is

head from

of the

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

between the brows and above the beak to the midpoint


of the head is normally a deep and unspotted brown.

The

habitat

Owl

Spotted

that

prefers

it

causes

California

the

to be rarely seen in the wild. It

inclined

is

to stay within the confines of the deepest portions of

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

cliffsides,

JUVENILE
Very

similar in

first-winter

and,

but

adults,

to

with the white spots more buffy or ivoried, and with

much

not as

and breast

contrast to the brown. Gular

The facial disks are a


much contrast between the

patches of white are absent.


darker, with not as

trifle

concentric rings.

fir

in

much

pastures.

plumage

forests, on sheer but heavily wooded


narrow canyons with equally sheer walls

very dense

less

regularly, in wide,

Occasionally

it

will

flat,

parklike forest

frequent stream valleys

grown with oak, sycamore, willow, Cottonwood,


and alder tangles. At no time is it an easy bird to locate.
Roosting is normally done about two-thirds of the way
up in a dense fir tree, close to the bole, and with the
bird well camouflaged against the dappled background
of bark. If disturbed it will fly only a short distance and
then promptly go to roost again.

well

GENERAL HABITS AND


ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

CHARACTERISTICS
Although the California Spotted Owl can see and
well during the day,

it

is

more

are the Barred Owls. Except on the cloudiest of days,


will

seldom

fly in

daytime unless forced to do

so,

Strangely limited in offensive qualities, this owl has

fly

retiring diurnally than


it

and

been known

to

truder destroy

move on

perch close at hand and watch an


its

nest,

eggs,

in-

or young, with never a

the adult bird's part to attack or even attempt

even then only reluctantly.

When
marked

startled,

alteration

its

facial

expression can undergo a

from what seems

to a

to be a suspicious, catlike expression at

ing

and somewhat

alarmed

its

quizzical

expression

more

friendly than

seem

to

has

look.

the

ferocious,

human

first

for

to a soften-

Even when

it

and some
the

of
is

its

California. Difference of breast-plumage markings

habits

no clear

peculiar parrotlike

movements it so often makes when perched and these


movements appear all the more comical as the bird
40

Perched hunting postures of the California Spotted Owl (Strix


occidentalis occidentalis) in northeastern Los Angeles County,

is

appearance of being

border on the ludicrous. There

explanation, for example,

viewer

Spotted

magnified individual feathers to


turning radius of head

is

left

depicted by light head sketch be-

hind darker head sketch of middle bird. Turning


its

own

right,

but can return


blink of a

Owl

shown on
Amazing

of middle bird.

its

head on

the owl accomplishes a turn of about


its

human

270

gaze forward in so swift a time that the

eye will miss the movement.

drive

to

intruder.

the

off

bodily lifted by unprotected

On

occasion

off

COURTSHIP AND MATING

been

has

it

human hands

clutch

its

Not a great deal

of eggs with never a protest. Its greatest defense seems

natural camouflage in

to be a

which makes

its

virtually invisible

it

plumage,

speckled

when

roosting in a

of observation. It

sun-dappled shady spot against bark or foliage, even

gins

when the
Where

still

to

observer

very close.

is

natural enemies are concerned,

prey on occasion to the

fall

Pacific

it

believed

is

known about

positively

is

the court-

ship of this owl species, mainly because of the difficulty


is

known

that courtship generally be-

anywhere from late February to very early April,


with mating following immediately. Much information
neads to be gathered in

this regard,

however.

Horned Owl

(Bubo virginianus pacificus) Otherwise, its only natuenemies seem to be the hordes of smaller birds
which delight in harassing it, though rarely if ever with
actual injury to the owl. These smaller bird antagonists
.

ral

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

include vireos, flycatchers, California woodpeckers, bluefronted

California

jays,

jays,

NESTING HABITS

and a

creepers,

Sierra

variety of warblers.
Strix occidentalis occidentalis
It

doubtful that

is

the

first

is

always singlebrooded.

will lay a second clutch of eggs

it

destroyed. Unlike the Barred Owls,

is

it

if

will

seldom take occupancy of an abandoned hawk or raven

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY
More

often than not

its

preference

is

to

some manner

until

intently

listening

along, at which time

launches

it

itself

normally takes
carrying
ally,

it

small enough so that

is

back

to nest or

perch in

comes

prey

with thunderbolt

speed and great accuracy to the attack.


it

The prey

beak. Occasionkilled,

range through the woods or along small watercourses

manner

the

of the Barred Owls, but this

more the exception than

such a nest will usually

an oak or pine grow-

feet.

Far more often the California Spotted Owl prefers

to

nest in a natural tree hollow or sheltered in highly inaccessible cliff crannies, usually with a sheer

drop of

100 to 400 feet directly beneath the nesting cranny. Occasionally, almost as

if

throwing caution to the winds,


exposed areas, such

as a

it

hollow

on the ground, or in a declivity of a stream


bank no more than a few feet above the lower ground

log lying
is

the feet are used for carrying. Sometimes the owl will

in

6,000

will nest in surprisingly


its

so,

it

has no difficulty

however, when a somewhat larger animal

much

does do

feet in height, in

ing on the edge of a canyon, at an elevation of about

perch quietly

of

it

be from 30 to 50

near a small grassy forest glade, watching and

in a tree

when

but

nest,

level of the creekside.

No

effort

is

made

to build a nest

and the eggs are

is

laid

directly

the rule.

chosen

site.

on whatever surface is available in the


Very soon, however, the nest is surrounded

by a motley collection of such debris as feathers, bones,


fur,

in

pellets

various

stages

other rubbish. This species

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES


This

one of the few owls that are known

is

fond of various forms of


at

offal

and garbage.

If

it

to
is

chances are that the California Spotted

all,

condition of

There

will

it

fire-fried trout will

trates

be

Owl

muskmelon there, a piece


Even the heads of campbe eaten if discovered. Where living
bit of

mainly on
rats,

brush

Though

rats

Owl

and

Two or three eggs are laid, but


On rare occasions there will be

four.

Color

Pure, unblemished white.

Round-ovate

chipmunks and small squirrels.


a feeder on other birds, it will

also

not noted as

per nesting

Shape

and eat warblers, crested jays, Screech


Owl (Glaucidium gnoma
Pellet ejection and defecation are much as in
kill

Owls, and the Coast Pygmy


grinnelli)

Number

most often only two.

and mice of various species, such

white-footed mice, red tree mice, pine

rats,

occasionally

Spotted

to very nearly globular. Virtu-

ally indistinguishable from those of the Barred Owls.

As in the Barred Owls, slightly granulated.


Never, however (as may occur with Barred Owls), with
the eggshell being in any degree glossy.
Texture

Based on a

Size

average

mm.

the Barred Owls.

42

EGGS

concen-

concerned, the California Spotted

wood

rats,

not as fastidious about the

seen

of hard-boiled egg elsewhere.

is

and

walk about nonchalantly, picking up a

morsel of meat here, a

prey

is

decomposition,

nesting area as are the Barred Owls.

be seen at some woodland picnic disposal area.

will

as

its

of

Owl

size

total

of

23

was 50.0 mm. (2.0")

1.6") in

eggs

measured,

the

and 41.3
width. The extreme measurements were:
in length

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum
Interval

length:

54.0

length:

42.3

width:

43.2

width:

33.5

(2.1")
(1.7")
(1.7")

(1.3")

Not incontrovertibly

egg-laying

of

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

estab-

lished but probably very similar to that of the Barred

Owls.
Egg-laying dates

Earliest,

March

normally between March 27 and April

latest,

May

17.

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS
Incubation begins with the

egg laid and

first

is

prob-

ably from 25 to 28 days in duration. As nearly as can

be determined,
bird, while the

all incubation is done by the female


male supplies her with food. Occasion-

ally she will leave the nest for brief periods, possibly to

drink or bathe, but there

is

though he evidently does stay


So unaggressive
tightly

sit

will

no evidence

to

show that

take over incubation duties even

the male will

is

then,

close by.

the female that, although she will

on her eggs

allow herself to

in the face of disturbance, she

be

lifted

without

eggs

the

off

and even with an odd sense of


detachment over what is occurring.

protest

disinterest or

CALIFORNIA SPOTTED

OWL

Strix occidentalis occidentalis (Xantus'

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

CHARACTERISTICS

On
Little solid

information has been gathered on the nest

and juvenal life of the California Spotted Owl. It


has been noted, though, that late each afternoon
usually around 4 p.m.
there is a period of marked increase of activity within the nest, although what connotation this may have remains a mystery. Fledgling
birds have been seen at this time moving about in the
nest and flapping their wings vigorously. There is some

life

unusually interesting but

parent birds may,


cally

move them

if

to

young

inclusive

evidence

the

from Tehama County


to

cliff face.

perhaps

effort to flap or struggle while

may

from Santa Barbara County

San Diego County.

MIGRATION
None.

a pro-

Reportedly, the baby

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE

being so

transported. It should be borne in mind, however, that


the report

in California

Tulare County, and the moun-

tains of southern California

birds are carried in the beak of the parent by one foot

and make no

to

Nevada

birds are endangered, physi-

a safer location

tected ledge on a nearby

that

the west slope of the Sierra

be at best somewhat embellished, and at

Undoubtedly of some
but to what extent

is

benefit in forest-rodent control,

not known.

worst entirely fanciful.

At about twelve or

fifteen

days of age, the young

down on the upperand buffy-white on the underparts. At this age


they tend to shrink slightly from an extended hand,
but do not hiss or threaten.
birds are clad in soft, grayish-white

parts

Northern Spotted

NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL


{COLOR PLATE
Owl

VI)
43

TAIL LENGTH
Slightly shorter than

that of Strix occidentalis oc-

cidentalis, averaging 204.7

mm.

(8.1").

EARS AND HEARING


Extremely keen, and
close

this bird

may

be decoyed into

observation range from comparatively long dis-

tances by emulating the squeak of a mouse.

VOICE
Very much

Strix occidentalis occidentalis, with

like

the addition of one cry best described as a prolonged,

and rather nerve-racking whining sound which


rises in tone and volume to a grating noise
that can set the teeth on edge in the daytime and
cause the hair at the nape to tingle at night. Once

eerie

gradually

heard, this cry


fied, is

is

never forgotten and,

never mistaken for anything

if

properly identi-

else.

NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL


Strix occidentalis caurina

SCIENTIFIC

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

(Merriam)

NAME AND

Voices of males and females primarily indistinguishable.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

There

tween the

is

very

sexes,

little,

if

any, difference in size be-

and both are marked and colored

similarly.

(Merriam). Original description: Syrnium occidentale caurinum Merriam, The


occidentalis caurina

Strix

Auk, Volume

15,

Number

based on a specimen from

1,

January 1898, pages 39-40,

Mount Vernon

in the Skagit

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

Valley of Washington.

OTHER NAMES
le
dian

As noted, similar to Strix occidentalis occidentalis,


but everywhere darker. Generally speaking, the white

chat-huant tachete du nord French-Cananame meaning "The Speckled Hooting Cat of the

North."

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

and markings are smaller than those of the Caliis especially apparent on
both the head and back, where the white spotting is
reduced to a minimum and in some cases practically
absent. The dark markings on the sides, flanks, and feet
spots

fornia Spotted Owl, and this

more

are

extensive

and considerably darker than

California Spotted Owl.

Similar in size and markings to the California Spotted

Owl

(Strix occidentalis occidentalis)

but considerably

darker. Also darker, and with a richer brown than that


on the plumage of the Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix

44

Spotted

in the

obvious difference

between the two races, however, is on the wings. The


primary feathers are a great deal darker and the broad
whitish tips on Strix occidentalis occidentalis are absent
in

Strix

occidentalis

caurina and are represented

stead by a vague, pale,

occidentalis lucida)

The most

Owl

in-

buffy-gray band which becomes

slightly

whiter on the outer edge of the vane.

of these feathers there

outermost

tips.

The

On

OTHER NAMES

some

a faint whitish edging at the

is

Arizona spotted

three or four pale bars nearest the

owl

Because of geographical loca-

tips of the feathers in Strix occidentalis occidentalis are

tion.

imperfectly developed in Strix occidentalis caurina.

canyon spotted owl Because of preferred habitat.


tecolote manchado de nelson Mexican-Indian
name meaning "Nelson's Spotted Owl."

HABITAT
Confined to the

dense

timberlands

of

the

humid

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Pacific coastal forests.

Slightly smaller than

Owl

Primarily mice,

rats,

Owl

Spotted

FOOD

California Spotted

either the

(Strix

occidentalis

caurina), but darker

than the former and lighter than the

chipmunks,

squirrels,

and

rabbits.

or the Northern

(Strix occidentalis occidentalis)

latter.

The beak

is

a brighter yellowish ivory than that of either of the


other two subspecies, and

though the significance of

is

it

this

is

also

thicker beak,

unknown.

EGGS
Two

or three, but usually two. Four eggs in a nesting

have not been recorded,


fornia Spotted Owl.

as they

have been

TOTAL LENGTH

in the Cali-

Average length

is

slightly

Spotted

Owl

the male

and 458.5 mm.

less

than the other two

subspecies, being 427.5


(

18. 1") for

mm.

(16.8")

for

the female.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


From southwestern

Columbia (north to Alta


Lake and east to Hope), through western Washington
(east to Lake Wenatchee, Chelan County; Cle Elum,
Kittias County), western Oregon, and coast ranges of
California southward from the Oregon border to San
Francisco Bay, Marin County.
British

BEAK LENGTH
Slightly greater

Owl

Spotted
23.0

mm.

(0.9").

VOICE

MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL


(COLOR PLATE

Generally higher in pitch

VII)

is

NAME AND

16,

Number

40,

November 30,
Mount

Washington, Volume

1903, page

Tancitero,

One

whoo-whoo-WHOOO

last note,

with

but each note about

them.

Syrnium occidentale lucidum Nelson, Proceed-

on a specimen from
Mexico.

own.

two seconds long, with a one-second pause between

(Nelson). Original descrip-

ings of the Biological Society of

calls of its

not shared by either of the other two races

a simple, medium-pitched

On
tion:

call

a strong inflection on the

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Strix occidentalis lucida

than that of the other

Spotted Owls, but with specialized

common

SCIENTIFIC

than that of either the California

or the Northern Spotted Owl, averaging

152, based

Michoacan,

brightly moonlit nights these owls tend to call

back and forth across canyons for long periods. The


usual call

made

conversational

at this time is a pleasing and rather


who-who-who-who-who-who-who, de-

an evenly spaced musical monotone. This

livered

in

call

almost invariably answered immediately by a

is

rather grating and particularly unmusical cry of

Mexican Spotted Owl

w heck45

HABITAT
Forested mountain tablelands and canyons between
the

elevations

5,500 and 9,000 feet are favored,


with dense aspen clumps and creek-

of

especially those

Deep,

maples.

fringe

narrow,

well-wooded

canyons

dotted with caves and craggy clefts seem definitely to be


a requirement for residency.

ENEMIES
is

The Mexican Spotted Owl's greatest natural enemy


the Western Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus pal-

lescens)

and

strives to

it

avoid those areas where the

range of the two species might overlap.

FOOD
Consumes considerably more
tebrate

life

insect

and other

inver-

such as spiders, scorpions, and centipedes

than do either of the other two subspecies. The Mexican


Spotted

Owl seems

especially to favor feeding

on large

moths.

MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL


Strix occidentalis lucida (Nelson)

NEST

wheck-wheck-wheck-wheck, similar to but much harsher


than the distant quacking of a duck.

The

voice of the female

recognizably higher in

is

On

rare occasions Strix occidentalis lucida will build

own

its

poorly constructed nest in a crotch about 30


Cottonwood or very dense Douglas

feet high, usually in a

pitch than that of the male.

at

fir,

an altitude of about 7,500

prefers a natural cavity in

However,

feet.

a large oak tree or

it

on a

ledge near the entrance to a rather spacious but relatively inaccessible cave.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
The Mexican Spotted Owl
rare occasions lighter)
ish suffusion of

Spotted Owl.

is

less

EGGS

(though on

darker

and has much

buffy-yellow-

The

general coloration than the California

In

almost

all

cases

has

it

a vaguely

grayer general coloration than the Northern

Owl, even though

its

Spotted

browns more nearly approach

eggs of the Mexican Spotted

or

the

(2.0") in length

and 42.9 mm. (1.7")

three are the usual

Northern race.

more often

occidentalis

very small

white spottings,

occidentalis,

are

like

much

those of Strix

larger

than

are slightly

Northern Spotted Owl, averaging 50.8

those of the California race than they do those of the


Its

Owl

larger than those of either the California Spotted

laid

number

laid,

in width.

Owl
mm.

Two

or

although three are

than two. Rarely, four

will

be

laid.

the

white spots on Strix occidentalis caurina.

In a very general way,

the

California

Spotted

Owl

could be called a cinnamon-brown owl with large white


spots;

the

Northern Spotted

Owl

could be called

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

chestnut-brown owl with small white spots; and the

Mexican Spotted Owl could be called an ashy chestnutbrown owl with large white spots.
46

Spotted

Northern Arizona (Grand Canyon), central and western

Owl

New

Mexico, southeastern Utah

(Navajo Moun-

tain),

central

Colorado

(Park

County,

MIGRATION

Colorado

Springs), and western Texas (Guadalupe Mountains),

southward into Mexico, where


northern

(Pinos Altos,

it

has been recorded in

Chihuahua
Vasagota), Michoacan, Guanajuato, and

Sonora

Nuevo Leon (Cerro

(Sierra

Potosi).

de

Oposura),

No
into

number

true migration, but evidently a fair

Mexican Spotted Owls do come down


the

winter

is

to

of the

lower altitudes

near-mountain lowlands during years when


especially

severe.

This

is

not,

however, an

annual occurrence.

Mexican Spotted Owl

47

Heavy Walker" because

of

awkward movements on

its

the ground.

spectral
it is

SPECIES

owl

Because of the fanciful notion that

associated with being a

phantom

or other object of

superstitious terror or dread.

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

<

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

An

roundheaded
and having distinct concentric circles around the eyes. With its uncommonly dense and fluffy plumage and long, broad
unusually large-appearing,

owl with remarkably large

GENUS:

Strix Linnaeus

SPECIES:

nebulosa Forster

wings, this owl

is

tuftless,

facial disks

generally gray in color because of the

over-all intermingled pattern of black

with gray.

deep

SUBSPECIES

The huge

facial

beak, which

plumage,

lowish toward the


losa nebulosa

Horned Owl

is

seems not as

(Bubo

and white along

almost

virginianus

virginianus)

Great
nor

as

sp.)

or

Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis sp.). While the bird

GREAT GRAY OWL

seems to be as large as a golden eagle,

this

is

illusion because of the huge head, the long

amazing denseness of the


actual body

GREAT GRAY OWL


[COLOR PLATE

yel-

expression of Strix nebufierce as that of the

benign as that of the Barred Owls (Strix varia

nebulosa Forster

the

lost in

but becoming

greenish,

The

tip.

is

VIII)

is

much

not

bird's

an
and the

largely

tail,

plumage. The owl's

larger than that of the North-

ern Barred

Owl

bit smaller

than either the Great Horned

(Strix varia varia)

Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)


Rank in over-all size among

and quite a good

the

Owl

eighteen

or the

species:

Third.

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
SHAPE AT REST
Strix

nebulosa

tion, Strix

actions,

nebulosa

nebulosa

Volume

J.

Forster.

Original

descrip-

Always a very bulky-appearing owl, the Great Gray

R. Forster, Philadelphia Trans1772, page 424, based

62, article 29,

on a specimen from the Severn River


Ontario. Former scientific names: Strix

of northwestern
cinera,

Syrnium

Owl

perches in a relatively upright position, wears a

rather scholarly expression, and has a


gaze.

When

walking

it

moves

medium

slowly, rather

piercing

awkwardly,

of character, though

cinereum, Scotiaptex cinera, Scotiaptex nebulosa nebu-

and with a decided heaviness

losa, Strix nebulosa.

not anywhere near as heavy in body weight as

it

is

ap-

it

pears. It seems to be almost without a neck because of

the enormity of the great rounded head, which

OTHER NAMES

fit

cinereous

owl

Because of

is

usu-

ally about 20 inches in circumference and seems to


emerge directly from the bird's shoulders without bene-

of neck. It seems all out of proportion to the body.

generally ashy color-

its

ation.

great cinereous

owl

After

size

and ashy colora-

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

tion.

great gray ghost


ghostly appearance as

Because of
it flies

size,

coloration,

and

The wingbeats

in the late twilight.

of the Great

Gray Owl are generally

chouette cendree d'amerique French-Canadian name meaning "The Ashen-colored Owl of

slow and ponderous and not quite so graceful or as-

America."

Snowy Owl. The

la

nuhl-tuhl
48

Northern Indian name meaning "The

sured as are those of the Barred Owls, Horned Owls, or

flight, as

Great Gray

Owl

illusion of necklessness

the head

is

is

continued in

couched heavily on the shoulders,

imparting a silhouette in
biness,

considerable

of

flight

unusually long for an owl,

and when

perched.

pears to be a

much

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

stub-

The

despite the broad expanse of wings.

tail,

Species average: 388.2

quite apparent in flight

is

The Great Gray Owl always

larger bird than

it

actually

mm.

(153")-

Male

ap-

is.

Average

379.3

Minimum
Maximum

358.2

Rank

in

386.8

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female
(14.9")

397.0

(14.1")

381.

(15.2")

426.2

mm.
mm.
mm.

(15.6")
(15.0")
(16.8")

wing length among the eighteen species: Third.

FLIGHT PATTERN
This owl does not have the buoyancy and lightness
flight that

is

exhibited by most owls and

more than 20
across

it

in

TAIL LENGTH

flies

actually preferring to range

feet high,

hunting territory at heights of

its

rarely

less

than

Species average: 311.6

10

and frequently only two or three feet off the


ground. The wings beat ponderously and there is very
little gliding. However, there is no fluctuation of the
body to the wingbeats, as is the case with the Snowy
Owl, which undulates markedly in flight. The Great
Gray Owl is not especially graceful in flight and it
feet

seldom
before
short,

except

during migration

mm.

(12.4").

Male
Average

299.2

Minimum
Maximum

287.0

Rank

335-7

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

in tail length

(11.9")

323.9

(11.3")

305.2

(13.2")

344.8

among

(12.0")
(13.6")

the eighteen species: First.

BEAK LENGTH

landing very close to the trunk of the tree selected as

mm.

Species average: 37.7

(1.5").

Male

a perch.
13

(12.8")

great distances

flies

coming to perch. Normal flight is relatively


from one low perch to another, almost always

Measurements have been based on


5 males and 8 females.

mm.
mm.
mm.

measured

birds:

Average

32.1

Minimum
Maximum

28.0

Rank

in

42.5

mm.
mm.
mm.

beak length

Female
(1.3")

43.2

(1.1")

35.6

(1.7")

47.0

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.7")

(1.4")
(1.9")

the eighteen species: First.

WEIGHT

Species average: 1,340.0 gr. (46.9 oz.).

Male
Average

1,288.8 gr.

(45.1

oz.)

1,390.9 gr.

(48.7 oz.)

Minimum
Maximum

1,056.8 gr.

(37.0 oz.)

1,077.5 gr.

(37.7 oz.)

1,384.6 gr.

(48.5

oz.)

1,523.9 gr.

(53.3

Rank

in

weight

among

LEGS, FEET,

oz.)

the eighteen species: Third.

The

legs

and

feet are completely

becoming more deeply


Great Gray Owl
are somewhat small for the size of the bird and this
fact may be contributory toward its awkwardness when
walking on the ground. Though small, the feet are by
no means weak.
talons are a dull lead color,

692.2

mm.

(27.3")

717.6

Minimum
Maximum

617.3

mm

2 4-3")

670.2

755.7

mm.

(29.8")

845.3

in total

length

tips.

The

feet of the

Female

Average

Rank

is

(27.8").

Male
-

heavily-

rather finely barred with gray white and slatish gray.

The

TOTAL LENGTH
mm.

and rather

feathered to the base of the talons, and this feathering

black toward the

Species average: 704.9

TALONS

Female

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(28.3")
(26.4")

/ EYES AND

(33.3")

VISION

the eighteen species: First.

The

iris

of the eye of Strix nebulosa nebulosa

is

lemon yellow, and though the eyes are actually


quite large, they appear to be small because of the
enormous bulk of the head and the expansive facial
disks enclosing five dark gray concentric circles around
each eye. Vision is excellent both during the night and
in the daytime. In the more northerly parts of its
range, the Great Gray Owl hunts more by day than bynight and sees well at all times. It has been known to
observe a mouse moving through the grasses at disbright

WINGSPAN
Species average: 1,409.7

mm.

(55.5")

Male
Average

1,397.0

Minimum
Maximum

1,303.8

Rank

in

1,447.3

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female
(55.0")

1,422.4

(51.4")

1,412.3

(57.0")

1,524.8

mm.
mm.
mm.

(56.0")

(55.6")
(60.1")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Third.

Great Gray

Owl

49

V VOICE

tances of well over ioo yards. Vision plays a strong role


in hunting, equaling the role played

by hearing, instead

of being subordinate to hearing as in

American owl

many

other North

species.

There are three basic calls uttered by the Great Gray


Owl, and very little tonal difference between the calls of
male and female birds. The most common call is a very
deep, booming, four-note utterance which

is

peated at

of

Often

seconds.

EARS AND HEARING


While the ear

to

the

to

it

as

Gray Owl

Quite

bird.

15

many

as

WHOOOO-

has the sound of

and is not
Horned Owl.

about

greatly dissimilar to that

The second most common

call

uttered

is

far-

repeated as often as twenty times in succession. This

extremes of the ear cavities are reached. This


not beneficial

of the Great

is

such the Saw-whet


acadicus) where asymmetry

say that the hearing of the Great

be sounded as

will

this

with those other owl species


(Aegolius acadicus

It

usually re-

not as extremely im-

portant a factor in the Great Gray Owl's hunting as

Owl

call

intervals

carrying but rather soft and lyrically musical whistle,

not quite as marked as in some other owl species of

is

this

at

OOO-OOO-OOO

cavities are slightly asymmetrical,

is

three times

eight or ten times.

aid in pinpointing the sound of prey, the asymmetry

continent. Consequently, hearing

least

the

is

is

not to

poor or
but

contrary;

rather unusual call has the sound of:

OOOO-EEE-

HHHH.
Finally, there

is

a low, occasionally uttered cry of a

tremulous

decidedly

Eastern Screech

nature

Owl (Otus

not

unlike

asio naevius)

that

of

the

in structure,

but considerably louder and farther-carrying.

whereas many other owl species depend far more upon


their ears than

upon

their eyes for locating prey, the

Owl depends

equally upon eyes and ears


and would be greatly hampered by the loss
of either sense. Its ear openings are large and have
conspicuous anterior flaps which can be outspread at

Great Gray

y SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:

in hunting

will as

an aid

to

SIZE,

sound locating.

The female

COLORATION, VOICE

bird

is

distinctly larger

than the male and

almost always exceeds his body weight by about half a

pound and

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

MOLT

The Great Gray Owl has no

ear

tufts,

the top of the

head being quite smoothly rounded. No other North


American owl species has plumage so dense and fluffy.
Even that of the Snowy Owl, which is remarkably dense,
is more tightly compacted to the body form than is that
of the Great

plumage

Gray Owl. This density and

in Strix

nebulosa nebulosa

is

as

plunge

to

blanket

against

more than

50

temperatures
F.

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


Few

have been completed in these aspects of


Gray Owl's natural history but, in view of its
habits and lack of natural enemies, early

studies

the Great

nesting
fluffiness of

much

mortality
as three

inches thick, providing the big bird with an effectively


insulating

body length and wingspan by at least


an inch each. However, there is no appreciable difference between the sexes in vocal qualities or in
coloration and pattern of markings.
his

which

often

is

probably not as high as in

many

other owl

species. No information is available on the lifespan of


wild birds, but captive Great Gray Owls have lived for

upward

of forty years.

Because of the density of

Gray Owl appears to be larger


in over-all size and body weight than either the Great
Horned Owl or Snowy Owl, but such is not the case,
since it is a good bit lighter than either bird. Adult
Great Gray Owls undergo one complete annual molt
which begins in mid-July. The wing feathers molt first,
over a period of several weeks, then the body plumage.
New and old primary feathers will be found in the
wings at the same time. The molt is completed by the
end of November normally, but occasionally not until
as late as early December.
the plumage, the Great

50

The Great Gray Owl {Strix nebulosa nebulosa) appears to be


a much larger bird than it actually is, because of the great
density of the plumage. The rendition at upper right depicts
how this heavy plumage covers the actual body of the bird.
Also, because of the dense feathering

encircling the eyes,


small.

Great Gray

Owl

and the concentric

the eyes themselves seem

to

rings

be rather

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

GENERAL HABITS AND

The

general coloration of the bird

without any distinctive brownish

cast.

is

a mottled gray

More

specifically,

the upperparts are a dusky slate gray to sooty

and

gray,

this

brown

broken by deeper mottlings of very

is

dark gray black interspersed with grayish-white mottlings,

mostly on the edges of the feathers.

of each feather

The

produces an over-all effect of irregular dark

stripes

which are most conspicuous on the shoulders and across


The same central sooty gray of each feather

the back.

continues on the plumage of breast, neck, belly, sides,

reasonably fearless bird

takenly

interpreted

Never
losa

range,

outer webs of the feathers on the wing coverts

and the primary coverts have relatively indistinct bands of pale ash brown.
Nine bands of grayish brown mark the outer webs of
the secondaries, with the final band continuing to the
tip and the innermost three being concealed by the

The

greater coverts.

primaries themselves are crossed by

nine rather square patterns of brownish gray on the

outer webs, with those nearest the tips of the feathers

being

than those closer to the

less distinct

flesh.

coarse mottlings or even marblings of sooty


sooty grayish white tend to

make

Rather

brown and

a pattern of irregular

broken bars across the inner secondaries and the middle


tail

feathers.

The remainder

of

the

tail

is

generally

dusky in color and crossed by about nine somewhat


smaller and paler grayish bands.

The

becomes

it

nebu-

species, Strix

even during the

late

period.

Although virtually diurnal

in the northerly portions

more crepuscular and noc-

far

turnal in the southern portions.

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

distinctive whitish mottlings

mis-

the

flight. It is, howand antagonistic an owl as

a relative solitude,

prefers

its

is

not easily put to

any time a gregarious

at

autumn migrational
of

fearlessness

Horned Owl.

the Great

the bird.

The

is

whose

by some as being stupidity

ever, scarcely as aggressive

and flanks, but on these feathers the whitish edges are


more uniformly barred. There is a more profuse mottling of grayish and black on the rump and uppertail
coverts, which contributes to the general gray aspect of

have

Owl

Great Gray

center

uniformly sooty in coloration and

is

CHARACTERISTICS

Although a bird of the far north, the Great Gray


has a decided preference for timbered areas and
rarely strays far out into the tundra barrens and muskeg marshes, as does the Snowy Owl and, to a lesser

Owl

extent, the Arctic


arcticus)

Dense

Horned Owl (Bubo


of pine and

virginianus sub-

forests

fir

are most fa-

vored, although this bird will often be found during

meadows near
meadows farther

migrational periods in the brackish tidal

mouths and

costal river

more

in

lush

if they are traversed by streams and


have a scattering of small spruce trees.
More often than not the roosting choice is a wellhidden location within the mid or low recesses of an

inland, especially

especially dense evergreen, with the bird perched very

and frequently even

close to the trunk of the tree

ing against

and superciliaries are usually distinctly


and form two opposing crescents between
the eyes. There is a very dark area on the chin directly
beneath the beak, and a deeply dusky-colored space between eye and lores. The facial disks are a clear light

it

as

it

lean-

sleeps.

lores

grayish white

gray with (usually)

five concentric,

narrow, semicircular

bands of deep brown gray. The narrow facial rim is


dark brown, passing into ash white on the foreneck

and broken by a spot of brownish black on the throat.


Iris coloration, which is usually a clear lemon yellow,

may sometimes

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


Although

nebulosa

enough

nebulosa

snap

to

anger

spread

its

wings threateningly,

peculiar growling sound,


gressive

be a deeper straw color.

Strix

arouse

to

it

is

sometimes

will

its

beak

irritably,

and give voice

to

essentially very non-ag-

and has often been caught by hand during

daylight hours.

Young birds in the nest are sometimes taken by


Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus sp.), martens, and

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


JUVENILE
and markings from

little

adults.

differ-

Downy

young, however, are a bufTy white in general coloration,

down

on the hindneck, shoulders,


wings, and back being a dark sooty brown at the base
and pale, dull, brownish buff at the tips.

with the

5*

feathers

its

greatest threat,

At such
have it

particularly during the southward migrations.

Juveniles in first-winter plumage are very

ent in coloration

wolverines, but the adults have no really deadly natural

enemy. Man, of course, constitutes


hunters will often

times,

mounted
tribes

still

as

a trophy.

kill

shoot

Some

of

the
the

the bird as food, but

bird

to

northern

more

as

Indian

an emer-

gency measure than as a staple item. Far more regularly,

the eggs are gathered by Indian

source.

Great Gray

Owl

women

as a food

Surprisingly, in view of

Owl

is

its

large size, the Great

Gray

rarely bothered by harassing jays, warblers, king-

birds, shrikes,

or other smaller birds. Oddly, this owl

when

evinces the greatest agitation


cat or dog;

it

spies

a prowling

remains very nervous until that particular

it

rabbits,

and

birds up
and ptarmigan. Not infrequently

hares, along with occasional

the size of grouse

to
it

upon crows; these being taken by the owl as they


During migration into more populated areas to

feeds
roost.

the south, poultry

readily taken.

is

animal has moved out of range.

COURTSHIP AND MATING

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY
Great Gray Owl most
morning and late afternoon and evening hours, there is no time of day or
night when it cannot be seen engaged in hunting. Unlike the Snowy Owl, however, it does not often care to
range back and forth close to the ground in search of
prey. Rather, it prefers to move frequently from one

Although

as a general rule the

actively hunts during the early

low perch

to another. It will

sit

low

in a tree for any-

where from a couple of minutes to a quarter-hour, then

wing ponderously and usually no more than a few


feet off the ground
to another tree not very far distant. From such perches it watches and listens for prey
which,

when

Prey

detected,

killed

is

it

Although the male will engage in a certain amount


maneuvers before the perched female,
and just as often alight on the ground before her and
march about in a rather ridiculous, pompous manner,
of peculiar flight

there

Now

this.

male

and again, though not

animal, usually a mouse or


is

beyond

as a general rule, the

female with a freshly killed prey

will present the

rat.

ceremony

Little vocal

more apt

involved. Actual copulation seems

to

occur

on the ground than on a perch. Though male and female remain together throughout the nesting season
and perhaps remain mated for years, there is little
demonstration of affection between them other than
that which immediately precedes copulation.

attacks with great accuracy.

by the clutching feet driving the huge

deeply into the prey animal's body and most

talons

courtship demonstration

actual

little

is

often piercing the heart. Smaller prey

Larger prey

ried in the beak.

on the spot where


carried whole to the

is

is

killed

and

nest,

transported in the

is

ANNUAL BROODS,

normally car-

most often torn apart


is

eaten

there

but,

NEST,

NESTING HABITS

if

The Great Gray Owl has

feet.

though there
will

occur

if

only one brood per year,

some indication that a second laying


the first nest is destroyed. There is no

is

evidence that a third clutch of eggs will be laid

y FOOD, FEEDING

HABITS,

WASTES

second

the

if

In by far the greater majority of cases,

lost.

is

Gray Owl is an abana Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawk, or Broad-

the nest choice of the Great

up
and occasionally even

to and including the

All prey
rel,

without

larger,

within the limits

swallowed whole

Larger creatures are quickly torn

difficulty.

huge chunks just


of being swallowed and are devoured

by the powerful beak

apart

size
is

of a red squir-

with no attempt to

first

into

dispose of bones, feathers, or

doned nest of
winged Hawk. Some attempt is made
nest, but this effort is haphazard at

Pellets are ejected regularly

and are

relatively large,

Often green pine needles

occurs just prior to the bird taking wing.

Fecal material

is

somewhat more dense and

less vis-

many other owls, and is of a marbled


when fresh greenish, grayish, brownish,

coloration

and

black.

Though

bird

is

perched.

ever, occurs

Evacuation of such wastes

during

the

rarely,

if

will use.

well

as

be in either a hardwood or

shows a preference for

those which are relatively high


fir.

50

100 feet

to

However, sometimes

in

nests will

be

used in rather unprotected cottonwoods or other decid-

uous

trees

Once
will

and

as close to the

established

stick

in

its

ground

nest,

determinedly with

any intruder

to

make

it

it,

leave.

as

the

2 or 15 feet.

Great Gray

despite

Owl

the efforts of

Even the pounding

a club on the tree trunk will have

flight.

There are few small animals that are not considered


by Strix nebulosa nebulosa, although it tends
to seek, most specifically, rats, mice, shrews, squirrels,

as prey

may

the nest

conifer, Strix nebulosa nebulosa

normally drop beneath where

Feces

as

deer hair, sphagnum, shredded bark, and root-

dense spruce or

cous than in

be added,

will

lets.

averaging about three to four inches in length and one


to two inches in width. They are ejected at random
wherever the bird happens to be perched, and usually

Some new

be added, along with fragments of mosses

and somewhat more feathers than most owls


tufts of

fur.

this

may

twigs

to refurbish the
best.

little

effect

of

other

than to make the owl glare downward at the disturbance.

If,

as occurs

leave the nest,

Great Gray

Owl

it

on rare occasions,
will

usually

fly

to

it

does decide to

an adjacent

tree,

53

remain there

briefly

as

moves about on

it

perch

its

nervously, then return to the nest.

most pure white

at hatching, but within a

day or

By the time the

nestling

is

two weeks

down

old, the

being forced out by a downy plumage which


sentially olive brownish in general coloration.
is

EGGS

X
Number

From two

to five eggs are laid,

but most commonly three.

Color
spoiled

white

Dull

ready

with

often

peculiarly

sooty-gray

bands,

thighs

and

bands.

The downy plumage

the species
(1.7")

is

in

55.3 mm. (2.2") in length


width. Extreme measure-

similarly

is

banded with

Adult plumage
scapulars,

grayish

is

length:

58.8

length:

48.3

width:

49.0

width:

Interval of egg-laying

41.9

No

fully developed,

Earliest,

normally between April 9 and

white

olive

with

pale

sooty-olive

around the neck is


brownish and pale buff.
still

Facial

coverts.

disks

are not yet

nor has the head yet taken

enor-

its

mous globular shape.


By the end of the first week in September, the young
birds are flying well. They are at this time equal to
and have assumed most

of the

distinguishing physical characteristics of the adult bird,

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(2.3")

the only significant difference being that the head and

(1.9")

still somewhat small, and some vestige


downy plumage remains on the throat and underpays, giving the young bird a slightly unkempt look.

facial disks are

(1.9")

of

(1.7")

than 48 hours be-

less

tween eggs and more often closer


Egg-laying dates

in-

The under-

nearly fully developed on the back,

and wing

the size of their parents

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

exhibit

which are

and these feathers broadly tipped


fluffy down remains on flanks and

Shape Not quite so globular as in many other


North American owl species; ranging between oval and
elliptically oval, and normally more pointed at one
end than the other.
Texture Quite roughly granulated, with no gloss.
Size
For the size of the owl, it lays relatively small
eggs. Based on the measurements of 65 eggs, the aversize for

nest

es-

still clad in soft juvenal plumage,


each feather a dusky white and having three or four

with white. Long,

age egg

the

tail

distinguishable from those of adult birds.

spoiled.

and 43.9 mm.


ments were:

leave

to

developed wings and

fully

is

pays, however, are

and

about them, even though they are not

look

almost

Fledglings
nearly

per nesting

so

begins assuming an ashy-bluff coloration.

to a

March

May

week

apart.

23; latest, July 19;

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

Strix nebulosa nebulosa breeds in the boreal forests

from central Alaska (Nulato, Fort Yukon), northern


Yukon (La Pierre House), northern Mackenzie (Anderson River), central Keewatin, northern Manitoba

INCUBATION AND BROODING


7^ CHARACTERISTICS
The incubating female has bare thighs and lower
abdomen and the flesh in these areas is well layered
with fat. Whether the loss of feathers here is a natural
breeding

or the feathers have been deliberately

loss,

plucked away by the female,


cubation begins with the
for
all,

from 28

first

is

The

not known.

egg

in-

and continues

laid

30 days before hatching. All, or almost


incubation is performed by the female.

and northern Ontario (Severn River), south to the


central Sierra Nevada in California (Madera County,
Yosemite), northern Idaho (Fort Sherman), western

Montana (Lincoln County), Wyoming (Moose),


ern Minnesota

(near Roseau),

District of Ontario.

Although

it

LIFE

nestling

life

has

not yet

been recorded, but certain spaced observations have


been made which provide some illumination

in

regard

young birds. Newly hatched birds are covered


with a somewhat woollier and denser down than that
of most other owls on this continent. The down is alto the

54

it

summer

north-

Nipissing
in

Gaspe

does

its

breeding range,

move southward and

SHORT-EARED OWL

Glen Ellyn, Du Page County,


A.O.U. Number 367
XV

of

in

the

Asio flammeus flammeus (Pontoppidan). Female. Vicinity of

CHARACTERISTICS
observation

found

usually winters within

irregularly over the years

XIV

Extensive

is

in

County, Quebec.

to

YOUNG AND FAMILY

It

and

Illinois,

November

10,

1969.

EASTERN SCREECH OWL

Otus asio naevius (Gmelin). 3 young, female, male. Young:


Cook County, Illinois, May 19, 1962. Gray-phase
female: Vicinity of Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois, Janu-

Northlake,

ary 10, 1968. Red-phase male: two miles south of Bensenville,

Cook County,
373-M

Great Gray

Owl

Illinois,

February

6,

1948.

A.O.U. Number

eastward to northern California

(at

lower elevations

County), southern Montana (Billings), southMinnesota (Goodhue County), Wisconsin (Ra-

to Butte

ern

New York

Michigan,

cine),

(Painted

Post,

Fulton

County), and Massachusetts (Springfield).


Casual to southern Idaho

(Omaha),

Iowa

Anthony), Nebraska

(St.

(Hillsboro),

northernmost

Illinois

(Rock River, Zion), Indiana (Posey County), Ohio


(Clark County), and New Jersey (Mendham)

MIGRATION
The migrations
tially

of the Great

Gray Owl are

essen-

sporadic and dependent upon cyclic levels of small

mammal
scarcely

life

in

the

North.

some years there

In

any southward movement

is

at all; in others, a

movement of the species to the


The winter movement, when it occurs, seems to
move as much in an eastward direction as a southrather heavy general

South.

ward one. Nearly all the records for eastern North


America occur between October and March.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
GREAT GRAY OWL

Decidedly detrimental to populations of grouse and

Strix nebulosa nebulosa Forster

ptarmigan, and undoubtedly the root of certain eco-

nomic

losses to poultry raisers

southward

migration

during those years

becomes

more

extensive.

when
Yet,

these detrimental factors are largely offset by the highly

and much more extensive predation at


upon mice, rats, and other destructive rodents.

beneficial

times

XVI

Otus

asio

aikeni

AIKEN

(Brewster).

all

SCREECH OWL
Male.

South slope of Eagle

Mountain, El Paso County, Colorado, June

3,

1933.

A.O.U.

Number 373-G
Great Gray

Owl

55

la chouette
dian

granges de l'est

df.s

name meaning "The Barn Owl

la petite nyctale

"The

Little

French-Canadian name meaning

Night Owl."

cabezon

tecolotito

SPECIES

French-Cana-

of the East."

gmelin

de

Mexican-Indian

name meaning "Gmelin's Little Big-headed Owl."


sparrow owl Because of its diminutive size, as
as for

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

GENUS:

Aegolius

SPECIES:

acadicus (Gmelin)

predeliction for preying

its

well

upon sparrows.

white-fronted owl After the


and belly plumage.

generally light col-

oration of breast

Kaup

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

The Saw-whet Owl

the

is

smallest

the eastern

of

owls and easily distinguishable from the Screech

(Otus

in that

asio sp.)

it

is

has a well-rounded head without ear

SUBSPECIES

Owl

not only a bit smaller but


tufts.

Its face is

rather shallow and the facial disks are small, thus

mak-

ing the eyes appear quite disproportionately large and

imparting an

acadicus (Gmelin)
brooksi (Fleming)

SAW-WHET OWL

somewhat sorrowful expresNot much larger than a fat sparrow

appealing,

sion to the bird.

when perched,

this little

owl

QUEEN CHARLOTTE

OWL

in the type of terrain the

owl prefers.

Aegolius acadicus acadicus

taken within

Richardson's,
is

IX)

its

is

beak

but

it

is

black instead of yellow, and

is

black rim around

Owl's crown

One

the

Volume

Part

Owl

of

i,

(Gmelin). Original de-

acadica Gmelin, Systematica Natura,


1788, page 296, based on the Acadian

i,

Latham (Gen.

names: Nyctale
talis,

Strix

Syn., Vol.

from Nova

ica Septentrionali,

1,

p.

149)

Former

Scotia.

in

Amer-

scientific

albifrons, Nyctale acadica, Strix fron-

passerina,

Cryptoglaux

acadica

disk

Further,

which

the

is

so

Saw-whet

streaked rather than spotted.

of the most peculiar

of the

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Strix

is

facial

it

prom-

and appealing characterSaw-whet Owl is the seemingly impossible


positions into which it moves its head
sometimes with
its chin virtually resting on its feet, sometimes with the
face looking straight backward, as if the head had been
put on a full 180 off kilter, and even more startlingly,
turning its head so amazingly that the eyes are below
the beak as it stares balefully at an intruder. In this
latter position it seems that the head has somehow
been taken off and then reattached upside down. The
tail is short and blunt, and the head seems not only
istics

Aegolius acadicus acadicus

(Aegolius

noticeably smaller than

lighter in general coloration. It also lacks the

inent

NAME AND

Owl

Richardson's

of

evident in Richardson's Owl.

SCIENTIFIC

not likely to be mis-

range for any other owl, with the

funereus richardsoni)

SAW-WHET OWL
{COLOR PLATE

its

exception

possible

scription:

rarely seen by the casual

is

woodland visitor because of its small size, nocturnal


habits, and the difficulty of the visitor in moving about

acadica,

Strix acadica.

oversized but badly misshapen because of the grossly

asymmetrical ear construction.

Rank

over-all

in

size

among

the

eighteen

species:

Thirteenth.

OTHER NAMES
acadian

owl

Because of the geographical location

SHAPE AT REST

of a part of this owl's range.

acadian
in part,

saw-whet owl

and

for the tonal quality of

kirtland's

56

For geographical location

owl

one of

Honorary name.

its calls.

Although
reversible

Saw-whet Owl

like all the

toe

and

is

North American owls

it

has a

capable of perching with three

forward and one behind, as well as with two forward and two behind, it nevertheless invariably perches
with two toes forward. When perched it appears to be

TOTAL LENGTH

toes

much

smaller than

when

wing expanse for a bird of

the oversized

dappled background, and


sits

length.

this

coloration blends extremely well with a sunlight-

Its

on

motionlessly

the bird, for

time sitting

still;

is

on

the bird

its

want

194.3

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

The

held

tail is

especially

it,

Average

494.0

when observed
and

is

mm.

(8.6")

the eighteen species: Thir-

(19.9").

Minimum
Maximum

458.5

516.9

Female
(19.5")

515.6

(18.1")

478.8

(20.4")

562.6

mm.
mm.
mm.

(20.3")

(18.9")
(22.2")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Thir-

in

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

at

so short

Average

133.2

Minimum
Maximum

127.0

acadicus

slightly

emerging from

woodcock when

for a

its

it

more

wishes to go, and then

rises

140.3

(5.0")

131. 6

(5.5")

144.9

mm.
mm.
mm.

(5.5")
(5.2")
(5.7")
Fif-

TAIL LENGTH

an

flushes.

Owl
to

sharply to take

perch at about the height from which

it

Species average: 71.8

When

wings rapidly

floor,

(5.3")

wing length among the eighteen species:

in

the

of

hole in a tree, the Saw-whet

drops swiftly to near the forest

139.2

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

is

undulative character, like a woodpecker. Hunters have


it

(5.4").

teenth.

of Aegolius acadicus

woodcock, though with

often mistaken

mm.

Species average: 136.8

Male

very rapid and distinctive, usually suggestive of

mm.

(2.8").

Male
Average

70.3

Minimum
Maximum

66.9

Rank

originally

72.4

mm.
mm.
mm.

in tail length

Female
(2.8")

73.3

(2.6")

69.9

(2.9")

among

74.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(2.9")
(2.8")
(2.9")

the eighteen species: Fif-

teenth.

dropped.

On

217.2

mm.

mm.
mm.
mm.

to be absent.

flight pattern

it

(8.0")

teenth.

FLIGHT PATTERN

where

(7- 2 ")

among

Species average: 504.8

Rank

its

mm

about con-

downward when

rarely spread

tail is

may even seem

flight of a

(7.8")

183.5

WINGSPAN

with what appears to be

expanse and breadth of wings, imparting a

dusk. In flight, the

The

mm.

(7.1")

the body of this owl seems abnormally short

flight,

it

198.6

Male

vague batlike quality to


that

203.2

perched.

is

the

(7.7")

difficult

SHAPE IN FLIGHT
In

79.

in total length

Rank

for

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

to

also tends to shuffle

perch.

Average

bob concontinually swiveling its head

is

It

(7.7").

teenth.

the head seems to

unlimited curiosity.

gr.

Male

it

not always easy for

is

seems to have a

it

to look in various directions

siderably

often overlooked as

This

roost.

its

when awake

and the bird

stantly,

it

Species average: 196.4

largely because of

in flight,

occasion, the wings of this

ternatively, especially

when

it

owl will beat almaneuvering through

little

is

BEAK LENGTH

tangled thickets. At such times the flight becomes particularly jerky in character.

Measurements have been based on 68 measured

birds

Species average: 12.0

37 males and 31 females.

mm.

(0.5").

Male
Average

11.7

Minimum
Maximum

11.5

Rank

WEIGHT

in

11.8

mm.
mm.
mm.

beak length

Female
(0.5")

12.3

(0.5")

11.7

(0.5")

among

13.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.5")
(0.5")
(0.5")

the eighteen species: Four-

teenth.

Species average: 104.4 gr. (3.7 oz.).

Male
Average

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

in

Female

10 1.5 gr.

(3.6 oz.)

gr.

(3.0 oz.)

119.2 gr.

(4.2 oz.)

84.3

weight

among

107.2 gr.

87.9
124.

LEGS, FEET,

(3.8 oz.)

gr.

(3.1

oz.

gr.

(4.3

oz.)

the eighteen species: Fifteenth.

The

feet of the

TALONS

Saw-whet Owl are quite

though not disproportionately so for the

Saw-whet Owl

small, al-

size

of

the

57

The

bird.

and rather gracefully formed,

toes are trim

terminating in very long, well-curved, sharply tapering


talons

which are

feathered to the

jet black.

The

last ball of

and feet are thickly


the toe, and the scales of
legs

naked portion are a pale

this final

There

flight.

is

one annual complete molt which begins

about early August and

completed by mid-Novem-

is

ber.

dull yellowish.

VOICE
EYES AND VISION
The

eyes

with

large,

vision

is

of

Aegolius acadicus acadicus are


yellow

brilliant

excellent, but

it

irides.

The

will occasionally

is its

quite

night

Despite this fact, the

be witnessed hunting

on heavily overcast days. Evidently its


day or night, is not
is hunting by
location of prey as

bird's

tends to exhibit some difficulty

seeing well in bright sunshine.

Saw-whet Owl

The somewhat

sight,

as

whether

it

important in

metallic string of notes this owl utwhich have been rather grossly likened to the
filing of a saw
and the call for which the bird has
been named is really not the unpleasant sound one
might expect. Nor is it the most common call that the
Saw-whet Owl utters. This supposed saw-filing call,
uttered primarily during courtship
mainly from mid-

ters,

March

to

late

and, though

hearing.

it

April

is

very harsh

rarely

in

has a decided metallic ring to

nature
the

it,

SWEEEawwww SWEEE-awwww SWEEE-awwww SWEEEawwww and once the owl has begun voicing it, he may
sound

been

little

pause.

owl has extremely acute hearing.

attracted

It

has

from quite phenomenal distances by

emulation of the squeak of a mouse.

One

observer,

squeaking faintly to watch the reaction of an Eastern

Owl (Otus asio naevius) in a tree, watched a


Saw-whet Owl streak with unerring accuracy directly

Screech

toward the sound he was making, the bird coming

from a wooded area over half a mile distant across a


meadow. So intent was the owl on the sound that the
observer had to throw up his hands to ward it off.
Even then the owl circled him twice at very close range
before arrowing back toward the distant woods from
which it had emerged.
The ear cavities of this little owl are so huge and so
asymmetrical in size, shape, and placement that the
skull is oddly misshapen and the head of the living bird
often appears to be badly distorted. Quite frequently
when perched it will lean forward and raise one or the
other of the ear flaps located at the back curve of the
facial rim and listen intently. More often than not,
after a moment or so, it will drop from its perch, skim
along over the ground, and with uncanny accuracy
suddenly plunge to fasten

its

talons in a mouse, shrew,

grasshopper, or other creature which

made

the faint

sound that the owl detected.

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

MOLT
The Saw-whet Owl
exquisitely soft
all

eg

flight

and

feathers

has no ear

fluted

Another

tufts.

Its

plumage is
and with

for

perfectly

soundless

common

relatively

note

metallic-sounding

this

owl makes has a decidedly anvil-like ringing qual-

ity.

It

usually uttered in groups of four notes, each

is

of the four following one another rapidly, then a pause


of about five seconds before the next set of four

The

gun.

entire calling session of this song

possible, the

song sounds

also

last

last

As

closely transliterated as

TAAAaannggg-TAAA-

aannggg-T AAAaannggg-T AAAaannggg.


Again during courtship, the male often
series of three notes every two seconds, and

may

be-

is

may

like:

for as long as ten minutes.

throughout

much

of

the

voices
this

night.

rather melodious and quite a pleasantly soft

little

call
It

is

call,

in a rather breathless

manner, but never im-

peratively given. It sounds like:

WHOOOOOK-WHO-

sounded

OOOOK-WHOOOOOK.
common

Probably the most


bird

call

is

It

not far-carrying

is

yond a distance of

at

this

any

a questioning, rather raspy sound

of low timbre, sounding like:


y-y-y.

made by

practically

utterance

which may be heard

time of the year

oo

SSSsss-haaayyyyyyyy-y

and

is

seldom audible be-

feet.

As with many owls, especially the smaller species, the


Saw-whet Owl is capable of producing remarkably ventriloquistic effects. The authors have actually watched
one of these interesting little owls calling from a branch
about 20 feet in front of us and yet both of us were
utterly convinced for a time that another owl was
calling, first
finally

from

from behind us, then off to the left, and


far ahead of us past the owl we were

was only through associating the sounds


we were hearing with the movements of the bird's beak
as it sang that we were able to convince ourselves that
the bird we were watching was the one who was dowatching.

delicate, neatly overlaid

well

pleasantly muted. It has a sound like

continue the call most of the night without appreciable

EARS AND HEARING


This

is

ing

all

Saw-whet Owl

It

the singing.

One
that

more pleasant

of the

whet Owl

is

noted

which the Saw-

calls for

a very melodious, tinkling sound

is

cannot be reproduced in print but which

just

has the remarkable quality of sounding almost exactly


like a tricklet of

Next

to the

water falling into a quiet

little

Barred Owls {Strix varia

and the
the Saw-whet

(Strix

Owl probably

has the widest variety of

occidentalis

sp.),

among

calls

North American owls. As with those larger species,


many of the calls have numerous variations given at
different times. No attempt will be made to enumerate
emulate them here,

or

worthy of noting. This


ing

little

one other

but

is

call

quite

is

a very gentle and very pleas-

mouselike squeaking that

is

outer edges of the outermost

three narrow
the

cross

both harmonious

and surprisingly far-carrying. Not infrequently, tamed


Saw-whet Owls will respond to a gentle stroking of their
backs by uttering this delightful sound.

white, as

primaries

Two

with white along their lengths.

and usually interrupted bands

The

tail.

tip

tail

"eyebrows" (superciliaries)

pool.

sp.)

Spotted Owls

The

feathers.

are spotted

The

and chin are a

ground color of the

the

is

has a white margin.


lores,

dusky coloration surrounds the

facial

or

white

of

dull

disks.

eyes, especially off the

and extends downward along the facial


to dark-brown spots
outlines the bottom of the facial rim at the throat and
extends on each side to the ear ruff; sometimes, but not
always, forming a patch of the same speckling on the
upper throat. Sides of the head are streaked with
brown and white.
outside corners,

rim.

The

band

entire

of chestnut-brown

underparts are basically white or buff-

tinged white and broadly but irregularly striped

(ex-

cept for the median line)

The

with chestnut brown.

undertail coverts are usually pure white, but sometimes

may have

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE
While there

is

no difference

in coloration, markings,

or voice between the sexes, the female

the

slightly

is

indistinct

little

spottings

brown,

of

these

becoming elongated into short


streaks. Leg plumage varies from cinnamon buff to a
very pale buff, and the foot plumage is a pale buffy
white. The inner webs of the primaries and secondaries
on the underside have large spots of white on grayish
brown.
spottings

sometimes

larger.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

JUVENILE

Aegolius acadicus acadicus seems to be particularly


susceptible to sudden,

unexpected snowstorms

accorri-

Only the wing and

tail

The

feathers are identical to those

and the forward

panied by severe temperature drops during which time

of the adult birds.

prey virtually disappears and the high metabolic rate

portion of the forehead are white, in strong contrast

of the

owl cannot be adequately refueled. Numerous

times in the past, large numbers of these

little

owls

have been found dead following such inclemencies.


reliable

information

seems to be available

expected lifespan in the wild,

although

No

regarding

several

zoos

have reported that specimens in their collections have


lived for over eight years.

to the

uniformly blackish brown to lighter brown of the

ear region.

The

rest of the

upperparts except on

brown. The chin and

The

superciliaries

breast

entire

is

tail

crown, along with

and wings,

is

the

all

plain

deep

sides of the throat are dull white.

an unblemished brown

lighter than the brown


maining underparts are unmarked tawny buff

that

is

of the upperparts. All the re-

namon

buff.

The

facial

disks

are blackish

to

brown

cin-

ex-

cept between and over the eyes, where they are whitish.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
The

general

upperparts
is

is

color of

a rich

the

crown, back,

and other

Vandyke brown. The crown

narrowly streaked with short, irregular white

these streaks often are restricted

and

sides of the

crown.

On

to just

the forehead

triangular in

but largely concealed by overlying plumage.


terminally

with the outer webs mostly white.


speckle the outer

wing

itself

lines;

the lower hindneck there

are large spots of white, mostly

der feathers are margined

Such marked difference between juvenal and adult


plumage is practically unique among North American
owls, and for some time juvenal birds of this subspecies were thought to be a different species of owl
entirely. However, the full juvenal plumage is worn for
only a few weeks after the young bird has left the nest.

coverts,

in

The

shape,

GENERAL HABITS AND

shoul-

CHARACTERISTICS

brown, but

few white spots

mainly on the larger

The Saw-whet Owl has inordinate patience. If some


manner of prey should happen to elude it under a log

Saw-whet Owl

59

or rock or in a hole, the owl will take a perch as closely

overhead as possible and wait for hours,

necessary,

if

reappearance of the animal. Usually the patience reaps its expected reward.

for the

Saw-whet Owl does not take


and may be approached rather closely
if spotted at roost. It is reasonably sociable where humans are concerned and not infrequently will come
quite close to a campfire and join the campers grouped
around it, even to the point of perching on a conRelatively fearless, the

alarm too

easily

Nor

venient shoulder.

camper's

is

hesitant about entering a

it

Occasionally this bird will be found deep

tent.

within the confines of a major

The author

city.

ob-

it perched and
on a window ledge of the Wrigley Builddowntown Chicago. However, though relatively

Owl
Owl

not hesitate to attack and

will

opportunity

the

if

secluded

and

habitat

man

nature,

retiring

a Saw-whet

kill

Because of the

arises.

owl's

not

is

enemy except during the woodcock-huntwhen owls are frequently shot by mistake

considerable

ing season,

because of their

similar flight pattern to that

initially

of the woodcock.

Saw-whet Owl's principal

Basically unaggressive, the

defense

one of protective coloration.

is

pearance and small

Its

speckled ap-

camouflage

size so well

that quite

it

away

often an observer standing only a few feet

miss seeing the perched bird unless


seen at

under such circumstances,

all

moves.

it

it

is

will

If

it

is

usually be-

served one for a considerable while as

cause the owl's hiding place has been discovered by

preened

one or more of the many smaller songbirds which delight in tormenting it wherever they find it
birds such

ing in

tame,

itself

it

far

is

more often heard than

probably because of

its

This

seen.

is

remarkably well-developed ven-

as

bush-tits,

chickadees, kinglets,

name

blers, to

and war-

sparrows,

only a few.

triloquistic abilities, as well as its small size, protective

and

coloring,

Despite

retiring habits.

small

its

size,

Aegolius acadicus acadicus

known

extremely fierce with prey and has been

mammal

as

large

as

a cottontail

is

although

rabbit,

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

to kill a
it

rarely attacks any creature larger than a full-grown rat.

The

greatest likelihood of seeing one of these owls in

when

the woods comes very early in the morning

seems to delight

in

perching temporarily in

atop the uppermost spire of a

view

full

tree.

fir

Utterly fearless with any

it

the

manner

owl often does not eat

little

only on the head

or

its

of prey

entire

it

kill,

attacks,

but dines

sometimes only the brains.

It

hunts more in the evening and early morning hours

than any other time and exhibits remarkable inventive-

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

ness

and

how

to

it

The Saw-whet Owl mainly

prefers

keep

to

to

the

versatility in hunting.

come upon a number

will quickly

holding

with the second

about at

swampy

tangled

areas within such woods. It tends to

tamarack

frequent

alder

bogs,

groves of cedar. Occasionally

it

residence in or around a barn


until

it

likes

and heavy
up temporary
remain there

thickets,

will take

and

will

rats

has been exhausted through

its

hunting

far the most preferred roosting

conifer,

trunk,

especially

cedar

in the foliage.

will

once

has used a roost

and again. Dense vine


site

sometimes

is

in a

close

dense

to

the

Quite often such a roosting

be within a foot or so of the ground, and

branch

ing

site

but just as often on the outer branches, well

camouflaged

it

this

set of talons.

point,

will

it

If there are

finish

killing

still

and then go
this

way

it

after the

has been

living ones

known

still

others

those
its

it

is

beak

remaining.

to kill five or six

it

mice

In
in

rapid succession.

When

the

attack

rectly to the prey

is

say

launched, the owl


a

mouse

and

arrows

di-

slams a sharply

taloned foot to the middle of the furry back. As soon

efforts.

By

same time,

holding by swiftly tearing off the heads with

either frightened off or the food supply of

is

mice and

manage some-

with one foot, pursue another and catch

it

mixed hardwoods and coniferous.

especially

it

descend and snatch one and then, while

deepest recesses of dense woods, strictly coniferous or


It

Should

of mice at the

when such

it

will

come back

to

it

time

made, the talons jerk convulsively inward,


penetrating deeply into the prey's body and almost always killing it instantly as the heart and other vital
organs are punctured. While in the process of killing
its prey, it ruffles its feathers and snaps its beak in
as contact

is

agitation.

clusters are also a favorite roost-

vines are in foliage, but not during

the winter.

variety of field sketches of the Aegolius acadicus subspe-

cies,

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


The Saw-whet Owl's
larger owls of almost

60

greatest

any

natural

species.

Even

enemies are
the

Screech

the

Queen Charlotte Owl

(Aegolius acadius brooksi)

and the Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus acadicus). The


normal sleeping posture of bird at middle left is on a slightly
more forward-inclined plane than is common among most
other North American owls.

Saw-whet Owl

oo<< s ;

5?

'?3?

"">-'

rr
ff.f.tf.

^rt;M

Except with very small prey, such as


majority of prey

is

COURTSHIP AND MATING

the

insects,

and very often


carrying.
Insects and
the
doing

carried in the talons,

with only one foot

As the female

sits

in relative serenity

upon her perch,

many

other quite small prey creatures are normally carried

the male

in the beak.

twenty times before alighting a foot or so away, nor-

bird

mally on

will

her as

circle

During

another branch.

as

and
which she

circling

this

after he lands, he voices a variety of calls

appears to

listen to

or

fifteen

Once he

with great attentiveness.

has landed he engages in a complex series of bobbings,

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

bring

Regardless of what sort of prey

Saw-whet Owl

has

it

the

killed,

almost invariably eat the head

will

first.

enough so that only head or brains


abandon the rest of the carcass. Most
mice, shrews, insects, frogs, and other prey of this size
prey

If the

are eaten,

large

will

be swallowed whole in a

will

ingly

known

young

as a

to

flying squirrel,

An

torn apart.

sarily

normally such larger prey

exceedingly voracious eater,

regularly eat double

With such an

own weight

its

appetite,

very rapid. As

its

the

at

many

prey each night.

and

feces

may
may be

every

twice

or

ninety

minutes.

him

foot

which gradually

closer to her. Occasionally he will be holding

some other small prey in one set


moves about. Finally, when he is
only inches from her, he will drop the food and then
move away a short distance and watch closely to see
whether or not she will accept what he has offered.
No case has been witnessed where she has refused it.
Once she has in fact taken it into her beak and then
swallowed it, the male breaks into a series of tooting
a

gift of

an

insect or

of talons while he

calls of

mally

a pleasingly whistled nature.


off while

flies

continuing his
pair

move out

call,

The female

nor-

and he follows her,


which gradually fades away as the
he

whistling

is

of hearing.

Copulation generally occurs on a branch at mid-

as four or five pellets

once

of

rate

in

will

it

digestive processes are neces-

be regurgitated in a single night,


expelled

seem-

series of convulsive,

Although the Saw-whet Owl


swallow whole an animal as large

gulpings.

difficult

has been

is

is

it

and maneuvering^ on

shufflings,

height in a tree and


it

is

repeated

only a few seconds, but

lasts for

each

times

several

night

several

for

nights.

Prey includes a wide variety of small animals:

backed mice, house mice, woodland mice of

meadow

kinds,

red squirrels,

voles, rats of different varieties,

flying squirrels, bats, shrews, moles,

all

red-

young

and

rabbits,

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

occasionally prey as potentially dangerous to the owl


itself as

the least weasel. Birds are also eaten

such

vireos,

than a couple of days


strikes

to

when

the

of

die.

pellets

owl

this

always ejected with what


fall

as

severe weather

and

and food becomes unobtainable

suddenly weaken and

Most

such

is

ejects

Owl [Tyto

bird's

line of the

alba pratincola)

very

will

the

to "whitewash" the area below

they

daytime

habits of the

roost with

roost.

Barn

its

drop-

each about three-quarters

of

an inch long and half an inch wide have been discovered on the ground beneath a roosting area. At the
time of pellet regurgitation, the owl stands high on its
perch, then crouches while leaning forward and gapes
several times, simultaneously shaking its head violently
back and forth sideways. At last the pellet, covered
with a slick coating of mucus, flies out of the mouth

much

from the bird and drops to the


ground. Once the pellet is out, the little owl evinces a
relieved aspect that is most comical to witness.
as

62

as

a foot

the

although the success of the third nesting

The

especially at higher altitudes.

Almost invariably the nest


hairy woodpeckers are used.
is

first

is

unlikely,

brooding nor-

an abandoned

is

The

flicker

cavity within the hole

about a foot deep and normally the hole

to 50 feet

is

from 18

above the ground.

Reluctant to leave the nest once eggs have been


the owl will poke

as ioo pellets

to

hole in a tree stub, although sometimes the holes of

pings.

As many

unknown

Saw-whet
primarily single-brooded, and on a
not

is

Owl, although it is
few recorded occasions, triple-brooding has occurred,

are

Saw- whet Owl tends

its

Double-brooding

mally takes place in April or May.

evidently great difficulty

the ground beneath the

And, much along the

it

NESTING HABITS

as

and warblers but rodents and frogs


seem to make up the bulk of the diet. Because of its
high rate of metabolism, the Saw-whet Owl must eat
often during its active periods. If denied food for more
uncos,

its

head from the hole

banged with a branch, but


enough to fly off.

it

will

if

laid,

the tree

rarely be

is

alarmed

EGGS
Number

per nesting

but usually four,

five,

or

Three
six.

to seven eggs are

Five

is

the most

number, and six oftener than four.


Color Pure white and rarely nest-stained.

Saw-w het Owl

laid,

common

Oval

Shape

to

slightly

ovate and sometimes very

nearly globular.

Very smooth and moderately glossy, alis variable and there may be dull

Texture

though the glossiness

eggs as well as highly shiny ones, though never in the

same

clutch.

Based on the measurements of 164 eggs, the


is 30.5 mm. (1.2") by an average width

Size

average length
of 25.1

mm.

(1.0"), with extremes of:

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

length:

3!-5

length:

27.0

width:

28.3

width:

23.6

Interval of egg-laying

and usually

No

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.2")
(1.1")
(1.1")
(0.9")

than 24 hours apart

less

closer to 72 hours separating them.

Egg-laying dates

March

Earliest,

normally between April 6 and

May

19; latest, July 3;

2.

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS
Incubation
days, with

is

set at

from 26

though both parents


of the young,

not

less

than 21 nor more than 29


most likely figures. Al-

to 28 days the
assist in

most of

incubation and brooding

this activity

is

the female. Incubation begins with the

accomplished by
egg

first

SAW-WHET OWL

laid.

Aegolius acadicus acadicus (Gmelin)

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

Feather development

CHARACTERISTICS

of the fourth

is

fairly rapid,

week the young

and by the end

birds are able to flutter

15 or 20 feet through the air, but they are poorly skilled

Because of the interval of egg-laying and the fact


that incubation begins with the

hatched babies

blind,

first

and

egg

laid,

newly

By
fly

hatched, the babies are very


virtually

naked,

with

only

and unable

to

launch themselves from

young birds
plumage is evident.

the end of the thirty-fourth day the

quite well and the full juvenal

worn

and

early August,

tiny, helpless,

This

the

complete molt occurs, producing the

covering of sparse white down. However,

scantiest

this

down

grows quite rapidly and the birds appear woolly within

level

ground.

be found in the same nest with

young.

fully fledged

When

may

first

at landing

is

until late July

age, exactly like that of the adults.

first

when a

winters plum-

At about

this time,

parental care ceases.

three days. By the fourth day they utter almost continu-

ous liquid peepings. The eyes begin partially opening


on the eighth or ninth day, but at this time the irides
are inky dark and without much luster.

The
is

first

down

is

worn from

10 to 14 days,

and

pushed out by the juvenal plumage. By the beginning

of the third

make

week they snap

or seventeeth day. the


a deep chocolate

brown

On

and

the sixteenth

clusive

downy underparts have become


in color and now the irides be-

gin to brighten, although they are

still

not fully colored,

nor the eyes yet fully open. That does not occur until
about the twenty-second day, at which time the iris is a
brilliant lustrous vellow.

Breeds from southern Alaska (Mitkof Island), central


British

their beaks ferociously

a rasping call to their parents.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

this

Columbia (Nulki Lake, Indianpoint Lake) exof

Queen Charlotte

(Carvel), central

Islands,

Saskatchewan

central

Alberta

(Nipawin), southern

Manitoba (Aweme), northern Ontario probably from


Moose Factory), central and eastern Quebec (Anticosti
Island) and Nova Scotia (Sydney), southward to southern California (mountains of San Diego County), in
the highlands of Mexico to Veracruz, and to Oklahoma

Saw-whet Owl

63

(near Tulsa), central Missouri (Bluff ton), central Ohio,

Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada. Former

and Maryland (Cumberland).


The Saw-whet Owl winters throughout its breeding
range, but also moves sporadically to Queen Charlotte

scientific

West

Virginia,

Islands, the southwestern deserts

(Desert Center, Cali-

La Osa, Pima County,

fornia;

names: Nyctala acadica scotaea, Cryptoglaux

acadica scotaea, Cryptoglaux acadica brooksi.

Arizona),

(Madisonville), South Carolina

(St.

Louisiana

Helena Island),

OTHER NAMES

Georgia (Tybee Island), and Florida (Fort Myers).


Casual

Bermuda and Newfoundland.

in

brooks's

owl

Honorary name from the

subspecific

nomenclature which honors the ornithologist and bird

Major Allan Brooks.


la chouette de reine-charlotte French-Canadian name meaning "Queen Charlotte Owl."
northwest saw- whet owl Because of geographic
location and relationship to the Saw-whet Owl.
pacific saw-whet owl
For the same reasons.
artist,

MIGRATION
There
though

something

is

it

is

of

movement,

migrational

not truly a migration in the strictest sense

Much depends upon the weather conDuring more severe winters, the Saw-whet Owl
moves much farther southward than at times of mild
winters. Sometimes there is no migrational movement
whatever. Even bad weather does not always make this
owl move, as evidenced by the large numbers found
dead after especially severe storms. Some which wait
until such storms strike and then attempt to migrate
do make it farther south, but these arrive at their
the word.

of

ditions.

destination

emaciated

such

in

chances for recovery are

slim.

condition

Normally,

be a migrational movement southward at


gin in October

migration

is

and reach

its

peak

in

that

if

their

there

is

to

December. Such

always done at night and

is

A much

darker bird than the Saw-whet

ius acadicus acadicus)

rarely wit-

kill

a certain

{Aegol-

same

size

in

its

own

This

right.

is

particularly true in light of the

number

is

Aegolius acadicus.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
does

Owl

closely related, of

an absence of any known intergrades


of race between this owl and Aegolius acadicus acadicus. At present, however, it is still recognized by the
American Ornithological Union as a subspecies of

nessed.

it

though very

and general physical construction. The


and these are so
striking that there is a good possibility it may not be
merely an A. acadicus subspecies, but rather a species
the

fact that there

Although

principal differences are in coloration,

will be-

all, it

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

of pigeons,

barnyard chicks, and songbirds, Aegolius acadicus acadicus

destroys

such

numbers of injurious rodents and


it must be considered a

LEGS, FEET,

TALONS

insects that in the final result

highly beneficial bird.

Thick feathering continues down


on

legs

and

feet

and

the toes to the base of the talons, instead of the last

ball of the toe

being bare of plumage, as in the Saw-

whet Owl.

QUEEN CHARLOTTE OWL


{COLOR PLATE X)

SCIENTIFIC

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Aegolius acadicus brooksi
scription:

(Fleming).

The markings

Original

de-

Cryptoglaux acadica brooksi Fleming, The

Auk, Volume 33, Number 4, October 11, 9 6, page


422, based on a specimen from Graham Island, Queen
1

64

are practically identical to those of the

Saw-whet Owl, but there is a very decided difference in


coloration. Everywhere that the Saw-whet Owl is white,
the

Queen Charlotte Owl

in

is

a strong light rufescent in

browns are much deeper and richer


the Queen Charlotte Owl than in the Saw-whet Owl.

tone,

and

Queen Charlotte Owl

all

the

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


JUVENILE
Much

the juvenal form of the

like

but with

colors richer

all

Saw-whet Owl,

and darker.

GENERAL HABITS AND


CHARACTERISTICS
If

anything, even

Owl and

more

Saw-whet
and observe. A

reclusive than the

therefore difficult to detect

handsome little owl is sorely needed.


known at this time, the Queen Charlotte
much like the Saw-whet Owl in general

close study of this

So far

Owl

is

habits

as

is

very

and

characteristics, with

much more wary

the possible exception

and far more inclined


Body shape at rest
or in flight, the flight pattern and, as far as is known,
choice of habitat, courtship, nesting, incubation, and
that

it is

bird

to flee in the face of disturbances.

family

life

characteristics are very similar to those of the

Saw-whet Owl.

DISTRIBUTION
Although

it

to the British

southward as

QUEEN CHARLOTTE OWL

was previously thought to have extended


Columbia mainland and as far coastally
the Puget Sound area of British Columbia

Aegolius acadicus brooksi (Fleming]

and Washington, it has now been determined that this


owl is confined strictly to the Queen Charlotte
Islands. As far as can be determined, it is completely

little

non-migratory.

Queen Charlotte Owl

65

la chouette de richardson
name meaning "Richardson's Owl."
la nyctale boreale
ing "Night

SPECIES

Owl

French-Canadian

French-Canadian name mean-

of the North."

Montagne Indian name mean-

pillip-pile-tschish

ing "Water-dripping Bird," due to liquid notes of one


of

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

its calls.

sparrow owl After the prey this owl


tengmalm's owl Erroneously, after

frequently

the

kills.

Old World

race of the species, Aegolius funereus tengmalmi.

tuckwelinguk
One," because

GENUS:

Aegolius

SPECIES:

funereus (Linnaeus)

Kaup

this

Eskimo name meaning "The Blind


owl can be easily approached in

daytime.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

SUBSPECIES

richardsoni

(Bonaparte)

Richardson's

RICHARDSON'S

OWL
RICHARDSON'S

(COLOR PLATE

OWL
XI)

tufts.

Rank

NAME AND

rather closely resembles the Saw-

whet Owl {Aegolius acadicus acadicus) but is a good


bit larger, though still by no means a very large owl.
Unlike the Saw-whet Owl, with its black beak coloration, Richardson's Owl has a yellow beak, and there is a
distinctive facial rim of black that is lacking in the Sawwhet Owl. In addition, where the Saw-whet Owl has
white streaks on crown and forehead, Richardson's Owl
has white spots. It is also about two inches longer than
the Saw-whet Owl. A variable but rather distinctive
feature, sometimes quite apparent and sometimes almost absent, depending upon the stance of the perched
bird, is the unusual flat-topped appearance of the top
of this owl's head. As with the Saw-whet Owl, it has no
ear

SCIENTIFIC

Owl

in

over-all size

among

the

eighteen

species:

Tenth.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Aegolius funereus richardsoni (Bonaparte). Original

SHAPE AT REST

description: Nyctale Richardsoni Bonaparte, Geographic

and Comparison List, 1838, page 7; new name for


Strix tengmalmi Audubon, Birds of America, folio, Plate
380; based on a specimen from Bangor, Maine. Former
scientific names: Strix tengmalmi, Glaux funerea richardsoni, Cryptoglaux funerea richardsoni, Nyctale teng-

malmi

Aegolius funereus richardsoni has the inclination quite


frequently to stand high but lean
so that

its

underside

In this stance

it

sparrow. Despite

richardsoni, Nyctale Richardsoni.

is

its

body well forward

almost parallel with

its

perch.

tends to resemble vaguely an oversized


its

evident chunkiness of shape, the

and the tightness of the


plumage impart a sort of stylized or streamlined look.
Not only more or less flattened, the top of the head may

flat-topped aspect of the head

OTHER NAMES

at times

vex as

American sparrow owl Referring


and to the prey sparrows that

location

to
this

appear to be

slightly

concave rather than con-

in other owls.

geographic

owl often

seeks.

arctic

saw-whet owl

From geographic

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

location

and superficial similarity to the Saw-whet Owl.


boreal owl Meaning "Owl of the North," although this term is in more familiar use with the Old
World race, Tengmalm's Owl.
in part,

66

Saw-whet Owl, but with a longer and


broader spread of wings and with the tail slightly more
apparent in silhouette than is the case with the Saw-

Richardson's

Not unlike

Owl

the

whet Owl. There


as

is

is

not as

much

evident in smaller owls;

it is

TAIL LENGTH

of the batlike similarity

more streamlined.
Species average: 103.0

mm.

(4.1").

Male

FLIGHT PATTERN
Again,

it

differs only slightly

Average

95.5

Minimum
Maximum

88.1

Rank

from that of the Saw-

102.5

in tail length

whet Owl, the differences being that it gives the apbit more directness and determination in
its flight. The wings beat rather rapidly, and this is

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female
110.5

(3.5")

95.3

mm.
mm.
mm.

(3.8")

(4.0")

among

19.9

(4.4")
(3.8")
(4.7")

the eighteen species: Tenth.

pearance of a

especially noticeable
ity in

when

it

approaches

BEAK LENGTH

nesting cav-

its

a tree and tends to hover momentarily before the

Species average: 14.4

entrance in a mothlike manner.

mm.

(0.6").

Male

Measurements have been based on 49 measured


26 males and 23 females.

birds:

Average

14.

Minimum
Maximum

13.3

Rank

15.8

beak

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female

(0.6")

14.6

(0.5")

14.2

(0.6")

16.6

length

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.6")
(0.6")
(0.7")

eighteen

the

species:

Twelfth.

WEIGHT
Species average: 217.5 S1"- (7-6 oz.).

Male
Average

226.7 g1

in

"-

weight

Female

(74 oz -)

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

210.9 E r
192.7 gr.

LEGS, FEET,

gr.

(7.8 oz.)

(6.8 oz.)

199.2 gr.

(7.0 oz.)

(7-9 oz -)

2 35- 2

(8.2

among

224.1

P*-

oz.)

the eighteen species: Tenth.

TOTAL LENGTH
Species average: 247.7

mm.

240.0

Minimum
Maximum

209.6

Rank

263.0

in total

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

Dense plumage, reminiscent of heavy leggings, covers


Owl and continues to be
relatively thick on the feet, extending out onto the toes
to the base of the talons. Occasionally the plumage of
the feet will have a random dark brown spot here and
there on the upper surface, though this is sometimes
the lower legs of Richardson's

absent.

The

talons are uniformly black.

(9.8").

Male
Average

TALONS

Female
(

9.5")

255.3

8.3")

232.5

(10.4")

308.6

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

iai ")

9.2")

EYES AND VISION

(12.2")

There

the eighteen species: Tenth.

some

is

variation in

slight

specimens.

different

Though

iris

color

most cases the

in

among
irides

lemon yellow, they may sometimes have


considerably more orange coloration to them, or have
gradations of orangish-yellow color between the two
are a strong

WINGSPAN

extremes.
Species average: 602.7

mm.

(23.8").

Male
Average

594-4

Minimum
Maximum

499.1

Rank

in

626.4

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female
(23.4")

611.0

(19.7")

567.7

(24.7")

654.1

mm.
mm.
mm.

(24.1")
(22.4")

Vision is extremely good at night and reasonably


good by day, providing the owl is not subjected to
abrupt strong light, at which it tends to become bewildered.

(25.8")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Tenth.

It

sun

is

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Species average: 169.4

mm.

166.0

(6.5")

172.7

Minimum
Maximum

158.9

(6.3")

164.9

(6.9")

190.9

in

for bright sun-

EARS AND HEARING


As with

Female

Average

Rank

much

(6.7").

Male

mm.
mm.
1740 mm.

does not seem to care

any time and prefers not to fly at all when the


shining, though it is often abroad on cloudy days.

light at

mm.
mm.
mm.

(6.8")

is

excellent

(6.5")

hunting.

(7.5")

Owl

wing length among the eighteen species: Tenth.

is

all

the North

and

Owl

species, hearing

Though

this

auditory-

sense

of

Richardson's

not quite as well developed as in some species,

such as the Barn

Richardson's

American owl

certainly the most important sense in

Owl

(Tyto alba)

or Barred

Owls
67

(Strix varia sp.),

The

owl.

this

and vary

it

nevertheless an acute sense in

is

ear cavities are asymmetrically

slightly in physical

dimensions from one an-

other, but not to the extremes that

many

may

grating cry and,

in the similar

so, is

if

times with intervals of as

usually repeated three or four

much

as

two minutes between

cries.

On

be found in

other owls, and certainly they are nowhere nearly

markedly asymmetrical as

as

placed

rare occasions, this owl will give voice to a con-

tented chirping sound at regular intervals.

but smaller

Saw-whet Owl.

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

MOLT

There

is

no difference of coloration or markings be-

tween male and female

Owl

Richardson's

does not have ear

tufts. Its

plumage

dense but relatively compact and close to the body,

is

imparting an over-all streamlining to the general out-

birds.

The female

is

slightly

than the male, and the voice of the male is


generally a shade deeper in tone and mellower than

larger

that of the female.

line of the bird.

There

is

a complete annual molt once each year, be-

ginning about the middle of July or early August and


not completed until early or middle November.

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


To some

though not

extent,

pronounced a de-

in as

gree as with the Saw-whet Owl, there


susceptibility

VOICE
calls,

many

but not as

great

smaller

variation

owl.

as the

the

of

Saw-whet Owl, nor with


individual

that

as

calls

Owl calls much less freSaw-whet Owl and is mainly heard

Richardson's

quently than the

only in the early spring during courtship and nesting


season. It

is

capable of a

and piercing
distinctly

very peculiar gaspings

most charming and


sound,

bell-like

distinctive call

muted and

ventriloquial,

and has the amazing

a small

into

below

pool

sort of call issued

not

from no apparent cause, beginning about the third or


fourth day after an unusually heavy snowstorm has
blanketed the terrain. There are no reliable
available regarding the

span

too

may

owl

expect that

it

would

Owl and perhaps

is

in

of years of

have, although
live at least as

it

statistics

normal

life-

reasonable to

is

long as the Saw-whet

even longer.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

highly

proclivity of sound-

little

this

number

is

tinkling

character, which carries considerable distances,

ing like water dripping from a

Numerous

most un-owl-like

whistles, the latter being

in character. Its

series of

evidence of

is

severe weather onslaughts.

Richardson's Owls have been found dead in the snow

Aegolius funereus richardsoni has a wide range of


as

to

trickling waterfall

unlike

by the Saw-whet Owl.

is

The upperparts

same

this
It

a de-

lightfully charming sound, which may be continued


more than half an hour at a time, day or night;

of Richardson's

Owl

are generally a

deep Vandyke brown, with forehead, crown, and rear

for

sides of

re-

spots,

head

liberally spotted

with white. Larger white

roughly triangular, on the hindneck are largely

duced to writing, it sounds something like: TINGGTINGG-TJNGG-TINGG-TINGG-TINGG-TINGG, at

hidden by overlying plumage. Some of the greater coverts and the wing coverts near the edge of the wings

the rate of about two notes per second. Sometimes

have a

it

distinctive

scattering

of white

spots

that

are

ventriloquistic at times

As with the Saw-whet Owl, Richardson's Owl is quite


and most difficult to locate by

and generally round. The outermost half of


show two rows of small white spots on
the edge of the outer webbing of the primaries, with
these spots becoming smaller on the innermost quills.
Four or five rows of white spots which do not touch
the central shaft on either web cross the tail. Facial

sound.

disks are a grayish white, as are the superciliaries.

There are times when the female bird, and possibly


the male as well, will utter an odd grating call which

front of each eye

will fade to the point of


rise

being nearly inaudible, then

quite strongly again. After a series of these calls

has been completed, the bird will

about

five

lasts for

which sounds remarkably

68

into silence

for

or

may

or ten seconds by a

call

about seven or eight seconds. This

not be followed within

This

fall

minutes, then begin the same calling again.

latter call

may

five

like a small child

may

whimpering.

be issued without the preliminary

fairly large

the secondaries

lid

is

In

and immediately above the upper eyean unblemished area of pure dark brown or black.

thin, irregular, concentric black ring in the

of the facial disk surrounds the eye.

The

mid-point

sides of the

head are intermixed with dusky, although above and


behind the ears the plumage is a uniform dark brown

Richardson's

Owl

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

on the rear portion behind

delicately dotted with white

the ears. Sides of the neck are mainly white, although

some of the feathers are brown-tipped. A broken band


of mixed brown and white extends across the throat,
with the brown predominating.
The underparts are generally white in ground coloration, although often tinged in some areas with buffiness.
There are large brown spots on the breast, except for
the median line which is clear. Sides and flanks are
quite broadly brown-striped, each crossed by one or two
horizontal bars of brown which cross the quill but do
not reach the outer edge on either side. Undertail
coverts have narrow, buffy-brown stripes. Upper and

lower legs are buff, normally streaked irregularly with

brown. The underwings are a grayish brown spotted


with white, and the spots become larger and rounder

While

it

shows a preference for extensive growths of

somewhat stunted spruce in relative proximity to grasslands, more often than not it will be found in mixed
coniferous and hardwood forests. Farther north it is
confined primarily to evergreen woods and dense alder
thickets. During winter, when it occasionally wanders
into more developed areas, it will roost in isolated
deciduous trees, usually low and close to the trunk. Now
and again it will roost on the rafters of barns or under
the eaves of outbuildings. Most often, wherever it happens to settle, roosting is done in relatively thick growth
and within a dozen feet of the ground. During the
summertime it tends to wander into slightly higher
mountain elevations.

on the secondaries and inner primaries.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

JUVENILE
Only the wings and

tail

are similar to those of the

The entire underparts


brown. The region back of

adult birds.
slaty

area of

the

ear

are

unmarked

are a uniform deep

and

the eye
black.

the

in

Superciliaries,

and mouth corners are gray white, each feather

lores,

possessing a thin black shaft. Occasionally there are a

few white spottings on the primaries and

tail

Not infrequently Aegolius funereus richardsoni falls


prey to larger owls and hawks. Long-eared Owls (Asio
otus sp.), Barred Owls (Strix varia sp.), and Horned
Owls {Bubo virginianus sp.) are especially prone to
prey upon Richardson's Owl. Newly flying fledging birds
have often fallen victim

Owl can

feathers.

ravens. Yet, Richardson's

to

put up a spirited defense, meeting

wdth savage bites and grippings of


not bothered as

is

birds

GENERAL HABITS AND

are

as

many

its

its

attacker

strong talons. It

much by harassment from


other

owls

of

species

smaller

in

North

America.

CHARACTERISTICS
Richardson's
excited.

As a

Owl

result,

does not easily become angry or

when

discovered on a low branch

it

can usually be approached quite closely for observation


to

sometimes

be picked up without showing undue

though

alarm.

Al-

most active in the early evening until nightfall and during the first gray light of dawn, it can be
found actively hunting at almost any time of day or
night,

it is

on overcast days.

particularly

If

agitated,

this

bird tends to sway back

and forth on its perch, shifting


its weight from foot to foot and sometimes using its
beak to grip branches and climb about in a manner
similar to a parrot. It is not a gregarious bird and even
during courtship and nesting season it likes a certain
amount of solitude. When perched in the daytime it
often presents an amusing sleepy appearance, with

long

a strong

flights.

an ocean

flier

Some

liner

in

Richardson's

Owl

tends to

sit

motionless and watch-

high in a tree on the edge of a dense forest growth


overlooking sedge, meadow, swamp, or marsh, and then

ful

dive swiftlv to the attack

when prey

appears.

The

talons

of both feet usually strike the prey animal simultane-

driving deeply into the body cavity, while the

ously,

keep the owl upright and the

wings

flutter rapidly to

tail is

spread widely to act as a balancing prop against

the ground. For this reason the


frayed.

Although

it

has been

feathers are often

tail

known

birds in flight, especially sparrows

heavily lidded eyes.


It is

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

to the point of actually allowing itself

to

and

catch smaller
linnets,

this

is

mid-Atlantic and rested there for

and when birds are taken, thev are


usually attacked at night when they have unconsciously
given away their location by shuffling or otherwise mak-

raw chicken

ing a slight noise in their sleep. Almost without excep-

and

will

sometimes make unusually

years ago one landed on the

nearly three hours. It accepted pieces of

rail

of

from passengers, slept briefly after devouring about an


ounce or so of meat, and then winged silently away.

relatively rare.

tion prey

and only

Richardson's

Owl

is

If

carried in both feet;

less

often in one foot

rarely in the beak.

69

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

much

in natural cavities and,

the abandoned

less often,

nest of a rusty blackbird or gray-cheeked thrush

Rodents make up the bulk of the


various species of mice.

Lemmings

especially

diet,

are extremely im-

especially

Sparrows,

and

linnets,

other small birds are frequently taken during the nest-

more northerly

Although the preference


conifers,

richardsoni

will

tion this

owl

whether

in the nesting season or not, at the

grasshoppers,

the

roaches,

especially

Insects,

crickets,

and moths, are often


and salamanders, and

beetles,

some

along with

eaten,

wing.

frogs

will retire to the seclusion of

and remain

of stormy weather

pellets are ejected

rarely

the

in

vicinity

much

without

of

either

nest

or

Each

roost.

Number

measures approximately an inch and a half in length


by about a half to three-quarters of an inch in width,
and they are uniformly dark gray in color. Most often
they are regurgitated from the first perch the bird takes
after

leaving the nest or roost.

The

feces

dark,

are

sometimes with marblings of white or greenish white,

approach

inside the hole until the

EGGS

but

difficulty,

such a hole,

storm has passed.

occasionally a small snake or lizard.

The

use

also

those which are in hardwoods. Almost without excep-

Bats are taken often, mainly while hanging, but some-

when on

used,
bird's

for nesting holes to be in

is

Aegolius funereus

ing season, but very rarely at other times of the year.

times

is

the

of

limits

range.

portant to Aegolius funereus richardsoni, as are red-

backed voles and deer mice.

the

in

As few

per nesting

two and

as

as

many as
More

but both two and eight are rare layings.

eight,

normally from three to seven, and usually four,

five,

or

six.

Pure white, though

Color

a vague yellowish

cast,

in exceptional cases with

which may

possibly be a dietary

manifestation.

and more viscous than

solid.

Rounded

Shape

oval,

though sometimes nearly glob-

ular.

Very smooth-shelled, without

Texture

COURTSHIP AND MATING

Average egg size


measurements of 49 eggs

Normally the courted female


spire of a

fir

sits

high atop the lofty

or spruce while the male performs a series

of swift

and expert

cluding

dives,

maneuverings close by, inan occasional mid-air tumbling,


circling around her. Almost without
aerial

exception he makes a continuous series of

and odd chirpings

and again

his

while

calls

Now

primary feathers on opposing wings

will

each other with a muted clapping sound. This

strike

activity continues for

upward

As

of a quarter hour.

like

distant dripping water. After several

is

of the 49

length

36.6
29.0

width

28.8

width

25.4

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

Eggs are

(1.4")

(1.1")
(1.1")
(1.0")

not

laid

less

than

24 hours apart at intervals longer than 72 hours. Usu-

mo-

Egg-laying dates

May

latest,

June 9

20.

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS

The copulation is swiftly begun and


though often repeated for several successive

days at varying intervals.

Earliest, April

normally between April 16 and

accomplished on a branch at about mid-

Incubation

egg

is

laid,

27 days.

ANNUAL BROODS,

The extremes

ally all eggs are deposited in eight to twelve days.

height in a tree.

ended,

in length

it

ments of this, the female takes wing and arrows swiftly


toward deeper areas in the woods, very closely followed
by the male. Copulation may occur on the ground but

more often

on the

(1.3")

length

Interval of egg-laying

nears termination, the male breaks into the call that

sounds

mm.

32.2

in width.

(1.1")

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

mostly

so engaged.

mm.

is

eggs measured were

dips,

hovering, and tight

whistlings

by 26.9

glossiness.

for the species, based

Size

may

and

not begin until the second or third

lasts for at least

The female

does

all

25 days but rarely over

or almost

all

of the in-

cubating, and the male provides food for her while she

NEST,

is

thus occupied.

NESTING HABITS
Normally only one brood per year, although rarely
two. Almost invariably the laying of a second clutch of
eggs occurs only
there

is

second

if

the

first set is

destroyed. Less often,

the possibility that a third set


set is

may be

laid

if

the

SOUTHERN SCREECH OWL

Female, male. Female: Vicinity of


North Carolina, March 7, 1968. Male: Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina, October 3, 1966. A.O.U. Number 373

Otus

Elkin,

XVm

ruined.

Most nesting occurs in abandoned flicker or pileated


woodpecker holes in both dead and living trees, usually
at a height of from 10 to 25 feet. Some nesting occurs
70

XVII

asio asio (Linnaeus).

Otus

asio bendirei

CALIFORNIA SCREECH

Zenia, Trinity County, California,

Number 373-C

Richardson's

Owl

OWL

(Brewster). Male. Three miles north of

November

10, 1965.

A.O.U.

>s\<gluA<-

xxL^

mm

i
*

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS
Because of staggered hatching, the young
considerably in size in the nest

number

quite evident because of the

dividual brood.
of

shell,

its

The

may

smallest

vary

will

becomes

fact that

of birds in the in-

be a baby newly out

the remainder being progressively larger in

stair-step fashion to the eldest,

which may already be

well feathered in juvenal plumage.

The

babies are clad in white

down upon hatching


new feath-

but soon develop a distinct brownish hue of

ers on the back, especially down the dorsal centerline.


Most of the down is lost within two weeks, with the

residue

still

adhering to the outermost

tips of the

new

juvenal plumage.

There

is

plumage by the

virtually complete juvenal

mid-point of the third week, with the entire upperparts


a clear brown, which may have either a muddy or
somewhat reddish cast. All the colors are darker than in
the adult birds. This juvenal plumage is worn until
early autumn when a molt occurs which involves all but
the tail and wings, producing the first-winter plumage.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


RICHARDSON
Breeds from northern Alaska
central- western

Hardisty

Yukon

region),

Saskatchewan

OWL

Fairbanks),

(Fortymile), Mackenzie

central

northern Manitoba

(Nulato,

Aegolius junereus richardsoni (Bonaparte)

(Lake

(Nipawin),

probably York Factory), northern'

Quebec
(around the area of Kapuskasing
(Magdalen Islands), Labrador (Hopedale), and probably Newfoundland, southward to northern British
Columbia (Flood Glacier, Laurier Lake), central Alsouthern Maniberta (Athabaska Landing, Belvedere
western Ontario (around
toba (probably Winnipeg
Wabigoon), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (Grand
Ontario

Fort Sherman), Colorado (Crested Butte), Nebraska

(Lincoln), Illinois (Rockford, Sycamore, Cicero, Kenil-

worth), Pennsylvania (Allegheny County),

New York

(Fort Covington, Plattsburg), Connecticut (East Wind-

sor Hill,

Kent), and Rhode Island

(vicinity of

Provi-

dence)

Manan).
Winters in part throughout
especially

bad-weather

southern British Columbia

(Fillmore County),

breeding range but, in


spreads

southward

,
)

(Free-

Ottawa

southern Quebec, and Massachusetts.

Casually to southern Oregon (Fort Klamath), Idaho

XLX

Otus

asio brewsteri

County,

California,

BREWSTER

MIGRATION

(Fargo), southern Min-

southern Michigan

land), Ontario (north shore of Lake Ontario;

area

to

Sumas, Okanagan), north-

ern Montana, North Dakota

nesota

its

years

There is no regular annual migration, but during the


more severe winters large numbers of Richardson's Owls
do tend to move southward and appear in the northern
tier of

SCREECH OWL

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE

Ridgway. Female. Shinn's Peak, Lassen


November 17, 1929. A.O.U. Number

373-J

It

XX
Otus
tains,

ber 373-F

cannot be denied that

damage

MEXICAN SCREECH OWL

(Ridgway). Female. Chiricahua MounCochise County, Arizona, June 20, 1968. A.O.U. Num-

asio cineraceus

the United States.

to

songbird

this

populations

owl does do some


during

its

breeding

on the whole, considering its yearlong heavy


of mice and other rodents, it is considerably more

season, but
diet

beneficial than otherwise.

Richardson's

Owl

7'

name meaning "Long-tufted Owl,"

referring to the ear

tufts.

le hibou A longues oreilles French-Canadian


name meaning "Long-eared Owl."
LECHUZ BARRANQUERA DE WILSON Mexican-Indian name meaning "Wilson's Owl of the Barrancas."
lesser horned owl Rare term, distinguishing the
Long-eared Owl from the larger Horned Owls {Bubo

SPECIES

ORDER

virginianus sp.).

STRIGIFORMES

wilson's

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

GENUS:

Asio Brisson

SPECIES:

otus (Linnaeus)

owl

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
This

one of the more distinctive of

is

American Owl
over

SUBSPECIES

and exhibiting a

WESTERN LONG-

Godfrey

erect,

the

North
all

distinctly contrasting colora-

set of ear tufts

narrower, and

set

are in particular contrast to the general darkness of the

head, being a strong

EARED OWL

all

being quite heavily marked

which tend to be
somewhat closer together
than those of the Horned Owls or Screech Owls (Otus
asio sp.). These ear tufts, on occasion, tend to lean
toward one another slightly and are faintly tapered
toward the tips on their outer edges. The facial disks
tion,

LONG-EARED OWL

wilsonianus (Lesson)

species,

plumage, having

its

more

tuftsi

Honorary name.

medium

orangish buff to reddish

brown, which darkens considerably around the eyes.


The disks are separated by distinctly gray white and
unusually

full

superciliaries

and

lores.

medium-sized

owl, Asio otus wilsonianus wears a constantly peeved expression.

LONG-EARED OWL
{COLOR PLATE

Rank

in

over-all size

among

eighteen

the

species:

Eighth.

XII)

SHAPE AT REST
SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Asio

otus

wilsonianus

(Lesson).

Original

descrip-

Otus Wilsonianus Lesson, Traite Ornithologia,


Livr. 2, May 8, 1830, page 110 (Etats-Unis et principalement dans Vautomne Pennsylvanie) Based on a
tion:

Although the Long-eared Owl tends to slouch somewhat when relaxed on its perch, it can straighten and
elongate its body to an amazing extent, becoming very
long and slender in appearance an action which effectively helps to camouflage the bird and make it

appear

to

be the stub of a broken branch, a device

especially effective

specimen from Pennsylvania without locale

Former
Otus

signified.

names: Strix otus, Otus americanus,


Otus vulgaris wilsonianus, Otus Wilson-

scientific

vulgaris,

ianus.

under poor lighting conditions.

About midway in size between the Great Horned


Owl (Bubo virginianus virginianus) and the Eastern
Screech

Owl (Otus

asio

naevius)

guishable from both in that

it

it

is

easily

distin-

lacks the white throat

Owl and is much larger,


much deeper red brown, than the

patch of the Great Horned


with facial disks

Eastern Screech Owl.

OTHER NAMES

The ear tufts are usually distinctive and held sharply


when the bird is perched, but there are times
when the sitting bird holds them almost flat against
the head. The folded wings exceed the length of the
erect

American

lonc-eared

owl

To

differentiate

this

race from others elsewhere in the world.

brush owl

After the preferred type of habitat.

le hibou a longues aigrettes


72

French-Canadian

tail

and the owl

built.

Long-eared Owl

is,

on the whole, rather slenderly

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

SHAPE IN FLIGHT
The wings are relatively longer and narrower for its
body size than are those of the Great Horned Owl,
and the ear tufts are virtually without exception held
tightly to the head during flight. The tail is quite
evident in flight silhouette.

Species average: 287.1

mm.

(11.3").

Male
Average

285.8

Minimum
Maximum

269.2

mm.
mm.

295.9

mrn

Rank

in

Female

(11.3")

288.3

(10.6")

274.3

II -7")

301.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(11.4")
(10.8")
(11.9")

wing length among the eighteen species: Eighth.

FLIGHT PATTERN
The

Long-eared

flight of the

Owl

vering in quality and not as certain as

that of the

is

Great Horned Owl. Even when the long wings are


beating, there is the sense that the bird is doing a lot

buoyancy

of gliding, probably because of the peculiar

somewhat erratic and bumpy


flight pattern. Its silhouette from below is stubbyheaded and somewhat long-tailed, resembling in size
and manner the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus
of the flight, despite a

flammeus)

but

TAIL LENGTH

somewhat wa-

is

Species average: 15

Owl

flutter

and hover

When

necessary,

1 1

like

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

in tail

154.9

mm

(6.1")

(5.6")

151.

mm.

(6.0")

(6.1")

168.9

mm

(6.7")

length

among

the eighteen species: Eighth.

BEAK LENGTH
Species average: 17.0

mm.

(0.7").

Male

flight.

Measurements have been based on 27 measured


males and 16 females.

Female

(5.8")

will

an enormous butterfly or moth.

capable of quite swift

it is

(6.0").

148.1

mm.
mm.
143.
1537 mm.

Average

because the two do not normally range within the same


type of habitat. Occasionally the Long-eared

mm.

Male

should not be mistaken for that owl

it

1.5

birds:

Average

16.6

Minimum
Maximum

15.2

Rank

17.8

beak

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female

(0.7")

17.3

(0.6")

16.0

(0.7")

20.6

among

length

mm.
mm.
mm.

the

(0.7")
(0.6")
(0.8")

eighteen

species:

Seventh.

WEIGHT
Species average: 275.2 gr. (9.6 oz

Male
258.5 gr.

9.1

oz.)

282.0 gr.

9.9

Minimum
Maximum

215.4 S1

7-5

oz -)

227.0 gr.

8.0 oz.)

Rank

in

"-

299.4 ST-

weight

oz.)

I0 -5 oz

among

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,

Female

Average

333-4 gr- ("-7 oz.)


)
the eighteen species: Eighth.

The

tarsus of the

Owl

Long-eared

slightly longer

is

than might be expected in relation to

its body size,


between 38.1 mm. (1.5") and 46.0 mm.
(1.8"). The legs and feet are very thickly feathered to

averaging

the base of the talons, although the toe feathers, while


thick, are quite short.

TOTAL LENGTH

the

mm.

Species average: 354.4

339-2

Minimum
Maximum

328.9

Rank

352.7

mm.
mm.
mm.

in total length

talons themselves are very

tips.

The

feet

have a powerful

grip.

(14.0").

Male
Average

The

black at the base but becoming a lighter slaty black at

Female
(13.4")

369.6

(13.0")

333.1

(13.9")

407.7

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(14.6")
(13.1")

EYES AND VISION

(16.1")

the eighteen species: Ninth.

Untroubled by the bright light of day, the LongOwl is occasionally abroad during the daytime,

eared

though preferring cloudy days over clear

WINGSPAN
Species average: 978.1

mm.

956.3

Minimum
Maximum

920.9

Rank

in

1,009.7

mm.
mm.
mm.

Its

(37.7")

Female
1,000.0

(36.3")

964.0

(39.8")

1,098.7

mm.
mm.
mm.

(39.4")

it

is

flying

and

its

vision

is

best adapted to

The

late

evening and early morning hunting.

this

owl have a considerably more staring aspect than

(38.0")

do those of most other North American

(43.3")

possibly

wingspan among the eighteen species: Eighth.

if

bright golden-orange to yellow-orange

irides are distinctive

(38.5").

Male
Average

in daylight.

meus)

Long-eared Owl

the

Short-eared

Owl

(Asio

eyes of

species, except

flammeus flam-

73

,.

EARS AND HEARING

seconds. It

most reminiscent of the screams of a bird

is

caught in the talons of a hawk.

Ear cavities are asymmetrical in shape and positionthough not to as great a degree as in some species.
Hearing is excellent and more an aid in hunting than
is vision, though the two senses complement one aning,

other exceptionally well.

It

is

practically impossible to

When
comes
excited

sounding

calls

wheck!-WHECK!-wheck!

like

given while the bird

ally

be-

tends to voice a three-syllable series of

it

emphasis on the middle

wit,h

Owl

danger threatens and the Long-eared

irked,

This

syllable.

in flight, as

is

call

circles

it

usu-

is

about

creep up undetected on a roosting Long-eared Owl.

the intruder,' interspersing the calling with harsh snap-

At times the head will appear greatly enlarged as the


owl raises and extends the ear flaps, thus enlarging the

pings of the beak. As soon as the danger has subsided,

and pushing them forward. This owl is said


to be able to detect the squeak of a mouse from a
distance of ioo yards and can sometimes be decoyed

squealing whistle.

facial disks

to within very close range

by emulation of

this

however, the owl utters a long, low, seemingly

Sometimes, after the male Asio otus wilsonianus has


brought food to the brooding female, he will perch

nearby and give a

sound.

sounding

pleased

or

is

sound remarkably close

low-pitched

to

utterance

interspersed with a

someone

calling

softly

long and relatively narrow ear tufts are slightly

closer together

toward the center of the head than are

those of the Great

Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus virginOwls (Otus asio sp.) and much

ianus) or the Screech

Owl

larger than those of the Short-eared

(Asio flam-

meus flammeus) They are always tipped with black


and are a distinctive feature of the perched bird, al.

though they are normally

head when the bird

flying.

is

back

laid

There

against

flat

the

a complete an-

is

nual molt of adult plumage beginning in mid-September and concluded by mid-December. This molt
gressive

and has

any, effect

little, if

his

cat in a high, musical tone: kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty.

Probably the most startling cry uttered by both

The

call

often repeated

frequently accompanied by a

self-satisfied

woo-HUH-KK who-HUH-KK,

of

MOLT

encouraging three-note

softer,

hoooof-HOOOOF-hooof,

like

or six times. This

five

rather

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

satisfied

upon

pro-

is

flight.

sexes,

though more by the female than the male, comes when


eggs or young are in jeopardy. At such times the owl

on the ground making sharply distressed


These cries sound like a
of overloud catlike mewings. (See Enemies and

flutters wildly

as

cries,

series

if

she were hurt.

Defenses.)

In addition

Long-eared

to

readily

these

Owl can make

identifiable

calls,

the

a variety of other sounds

infrequent intervals; some like the yappings of a

at

puppy
squalls,

at

along

distance,

some

whistlings,

with

deep

prolonged,

shrill

snorting

chucklings,

sounds that are usually accompanied by a raspy

hiss-

and the snapping of the beak. To many of


calls there is a marked ventriloquism.

these

ing

VOICE
While

variety of calls

its

those of the Barred

the

other

number
ever,

species,

Owls
it

is

(Strix varia sp.), or

nevertheless

has

an

some

of

interesting

of calls quite different from one another.

How-

many

other

is

it

certainly not

as

vociferous as

North American owls can be and, except during courtship and nesting season, is rarely heard.
The most common call is a regularly intoned, mellow, and rather soft and musical kwooo-kwooo-kwoookwooo, with the emphasis, if any, on the first note.
This

like:

that

of

the

plumage

col-

pays, they are whiter. Females are a

males and
is

in

almost

bit

larger than

cases the voice of the female

all

somewhat higher pitched and

less

melodious than

that of the male.

Eastern

for

no known reason,

this

The

Facial attitudes of the Long-eared

owl
first

will

cry

and each successive cry diminishes in volume


until the sound eventually fades away
the whole vocal utterance lasting for 30 to 40

intensity

entirely,

74

unlike

series of rapid, piercing shrieks.

loudest

and

birds average generally paler in

but louder and farther-carrying, sounding

and again,

produce a
is

manner not

Owl

KWOOOO-OOO-OOO-OO-OO-O-O.

Now

Male

oration than female birds and, especially on the under-

has a tendency at times to run together in a

call

quavering
Screech

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

not as extensive as are

Clockwise from upper

left:

Owl

(Asio otus wilsonianus)

roosting bird startled

awake by

perched bird assuming the elongated, erectile ear


camouflage posture; newly awakened but not alarmed

intruder;
tuft,

bird; defensive posturing

ouflage posturing.

Long-eared Owl

when young

are threatened; cam-

fffff\ $\

it

l.o*c*~<?cA*-e.d

Ouu|

Qti.tvJz

St^ef.ti

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


Not a great deal

coming broader and more distinct on sides, flanks, and


belly. Lower leg and foot plumage is a deep buff, and

of study has been completed in this

the thighs are buffy white with cross-hatched brown.

aspect of the Long-eared Owl's natural history, although

Undertail coverts have narrow center streaks of slaty

it is

known

that they will survive for well over a decade

in captivity. Mortality

among

the nestlings tends to be

increased through cannibalism


prey, or

if

there

one of the parent birds

if

is

a shortage of

killed

is

and the

brown which become Y-shaped toward the


underwing lesser coverts are plain orangish
sooty-brown

the

greater

The

ends.

and
form a conspicuous

coverts

buff,

underwing mark.

remaining parent cannot bring an adequate supply of


food to the nest. Cannibalism, if it occurs, is usually
limited to the single smallest bird in the nest, though

on rare occasions including the second smallest

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

as well.

JUVENILE
Facial disks of the juvenals are considerably darker

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
The

entire upperparts

much

are strongly mottled with a

greater dominance, particularly on the back.

There are a few rather indistinct and irregular white


spots on the outer webs of the shoulder feathers.

The

be in adulthood, and the body feathers are mainly


brown, tipped and barred with grayish white. Superwill

brown and grayish white, though the browns are

slaty

in

than those of the adults. They are usually a deep cinnamon red brown. The ear tufts are smaller than they

and

ciliaries

lores are black instead of gray white as in

the adults, but wing and

tail

feathers are no different

than those of the adults.

greater coverts are generally dusky but well pep-

pered with buffy-gray spottings, usually of a transverse

The

nature.

primaries, especially on

are grayish toward the tips

GENERAL HABITS AND

the inner quills,

CHARACTERISTICS

and more buffy toward the

base, with fine dusky mottlings of a transverse nature

and from

five to

nine (usually seven)

transverse rows

of rather square slate-brown spots. Nine to eleven (usually nine)

and the

The

general coloration of the wing coverts

that of the back, but vaguely paler along the

like

is

bands of similar spots cross the secondaries

tail.

wing edges and with the feathers margined


buffy at their

in

white or

tips.

Primarily a nocturnal owl, Asio otus wilsonianus

feathers

of the

black, while those closer to the

pure

ear tufts are

head are plain sooty

in

spent

are

hidden

well

reason the Long-eared

flush easily

slate brown. Very tiny saltand-pepper specklings of black and white are sprinkled
on the forehead and sides of the head. Eyebrows (su-

gaze

which

lores

are distinctly grayish white

in

strong contrast to the generally dark coloration of the

head.

The

lores in particular are so distinctly contrast-

ing that they appear to form something of a shortened

Often

it

quickly

will

area being widest in a semicircle from the supraorbital

sibility,

to the suborbital area.

rich

orange-brown

facial

rim

is

to

The

rest of the facial disk

reddish-brown

is

is

this
is

it

those

perched, because
the

roosts for the day. It does not

goes

from sleepy

indignant.

to

West than

may

to

become rather

characteristic

in

gre-

more

the East, though the

simply be a lack of more favored

and a good many owls taking advantage


that are available. There is the posthat the family group is still together at

roosting areas

and then

it

for

This

but closed.

noticeable in the

reason for this

of

side of the eye

when

The Long-eared Owl tends


garious in autumn and winter

Facial-disk feathers around the eyes are black, this black

around the inner

rarely seen.

is

stare at an intruder with slanted and

slitted eyelids all

walrus mustache on each side of and below the beak.

area, passing

and

cover

dense

in

from such cover when discovered and seems


sit and stare at an intruder with a

inclined to

and

is

morning and

the

in

protective coloration blends so very well with

type of cover in which

more

perciliaries)

wing

Owl

very difficult owl to locate

the center of each feather but with the edges buffy and

with irregular mottlings of

the

evening periods of twilight. Usually the daylight hours

its

The uppermost

often on

nevertheless

areas

too,

this time.

The

coloration.

narrowly black, becoming speckled with

narrow white into a

sort

of vague

collar

across

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

the

throat.

General coloration of the underparts


to gray white.

The

is

cross-hatchings of a deep sooty brown, with these be-

76

For the most part, the Long-eared

buffy gray

breast feathers have very distinctive

well-timbered

with water

Long-eared

Owl

areas,

streams,

especially
river,

and

in
lakes.

Owl

close

This

keeps to

conjunction
is

true even

in the

more remote

ence

for dense groves of conifers or

is

and evergreen, but

regions of

its

habitat.

no other cover

if

available

is

hardwood or even low-growing

use strictly

prefer-

Its

mixed hardwood
will

it

scrub, espe-

when such growth is in the form of tangled thickSuch areas that are well interlaced with vines are

cially
ets.

a particular favorite, with the roost

normally

site

lo-

cated in the midst of the heaviest cover.

Lacking satisfactory
roost in caves or
ravines.

may

It

brush cover,

tree or

deep cracks

be found roosting

up

tions at elevations

to

this

owl

will

canyons or

in the walls of

favorable loca-

in

The most

,000 feet.

pre-

ferred roost seems to be a low branch in very dense


cover.

may

In such type of habitat there

be

six

or

seven Long-eared Owls roosting in a single tree.

begins

moving away,

still

on the ground and

still

hold-

wings partially open and acting as if it is carrying prey that is too large to be picked up and flown
with. This will continue until the intruder has been
ing

its

some distance away, upon which the owl will


and arrow off soundlessly away from the nest area,
but making a wide, unseen circle back to the vicinity
of the young birds.
lured
rise

Failing in that maneuver, the Long-eared

only the female

sibly

Owl

pos-

emulate an injured bird,

will

dragging one wing on the ground and hopping along


in a stumbling, pained manner. Again the enemy will
be led away in pursuit of her and when it
her to do so, she will rise and fly swiftly away.

While normally
launching

owl prefers such

this

physical encounters,

it

is

safe for

tactics to actual

not terribly hesitant at actu-

is

at an intruder and attacking savand talons, almost always aiming at


face or throat where the most significant and discouraging damage can be inflicted. In this respect, and in
its other defensive tactics, the Long-eared Owl is one
of the most effectively demonstrative of North Amerially

itself

agely with beak

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


Other than man, the Long-eared Owl's greatest enemies seem to be ravens, crows, and jays, which harass

and the
Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus sp.), which prey upon
it wherever encountered. Pigeon Hawks, too, have been
known to attack and kill them. In rare instances, the
Northern Barred Owl (Strix varia varia) will kill and
devour Long-eared Owls. There is also a certain amount
of pestering from smaller birds such as wrens, blackbirds,
cowbirds, kingbirds, and shrikes. Oddly, magpies seldom
it

severely but rarely inflict

physical

injury,

bother Long-eared Owls.

The

defenses of Asio otus wilsonianus are impressive.

wings so

facing

ground it will spread


widely, with the upper surface of the wings
intruder,

the

in defense of

to the

the

that

wings are

the

of

tips

its

young.

more subdued defense is its protective coloration,


which so well camouflages the bird in heavy cover; a
natural gift enhanced by the bird's ability to draw itself
upward in its perched pose until it becomes almost
impossibly thin
hardly more than three inches in diam-

eter.

In

this pose,

with ear

so closely resembles a

extremely

With head lowered almost


its

can owls

difficult.

tufts fully erected, the bird

broken branch that detection

Often when going into

this

is

up-

drawn "beanpole" stance, the bird will hold one wing


breast and belly to hide the lighter plumage
behind the more camouflaged plumage of primaries
and secondaries.

across

nearly on the ground and the outermost margins of the

primaries and secondaries are pointed nearly directly

much

skyward, giving the impression of a


fiercer

bird

than

it

actually

looking like a torn turkey with


expanse. In this position
at

the intruder, sway

acingly, snap
is

its

its tail

will glare

it

larger

and

and, to some extent,

is

spread to

with great ferocity

head back and forth men-

its

beak, and hiss piercingly. This action

most often seen

in

connection with defense of

its

nest.

The Long-eared Owl

uses with great skill

type defenses, especially where the safety of


are concerned.

One

two ruseits young

make a

of the parent birds will

show of exposing itself in flight and then suddenly


plummet to the ground. Instantly there will rise the
shrill

cry

of

type

different

sounds exactly as

if

some kind of bird

as prey

of

bird

altogether.

the owl has plunged

and

as

if

It

and caught

that bird

is

voicing

accompanied by a good
bit of rustling and feather-rattling on the ground, as
if the owl were struggling with some manner of prey.
Once the intruder has been decoyed in that direction
and away from the endangered young, the parent bird
its

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

fullest

frantic death cry. This

is

While the Long-eared Owl favors timberlands as habitat, most of its hunting is done over open lands bordering woodlands. Only a small percentage of its hunting is done in dense woods, although its flying ability
through tangled areas of brush and trees is little short
of phenomenal. Tending to range back and forth more
than many other owl species, it flies about six or seven
feet off the ground in utter silence, its head usually
canted slightly to one side, better to detect the sound
of prey movements. When prey is detected, the bird
darts to the exact spot and pounces with impressive
skill on the exact spot where its ears have told it the
prey is located, even though the prey may not be visible.
Though it will eat birds, it seldom catches them on
the wing.

The

birds that

it

does catch are normally

taken as they roost on the ground or in low branches.

Long-eared Owl

77

How prey is
Up to the size

depends primarily upon

killed

of a small rat, most prey

the beak; larger prey

is

normally carried

in

ANNUAL BROODS,

size.

its

carried in

is

NEST,

NESTING HABITS

one or both

sets of talons.

Although there

some

is

evidence of double-

slight

brooding in the more southerly portions of

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

the Long-eared

Owl

throughout

range.

eggs

Rodents make up by far the greatest percentage of


the Long-eared Owl's diet on an annual basis, but

Among small mammals it


meadow voles, squir-

prey can be widely varied.


often eats

wood

its

deer mice,

rats,

rats, chipmunks, bats, gophers, moles and


and sometimes medium-grown cottontail rabbits. These creatures, along with a smaller number of
frogs, small snakes, and some insects, make up virtually
rels,

house

shrews,

entire diet during all

its

when

but

its

nesting season.

It

is

young owls to feed that


the Long-eared Owl attacks birds. At such times it will
take as prey a wide variety of birds quail, ruffed
grouse, English sparrows, European starlings, doves,
horned larks, red-winged blackbirds, towhees, finches,
meadowlarks, juncos, cardinals, brown thrashers, bluebirds, kinglets, and even occasional Screech Owls.
Wherever possible, prey is swallowed whole but, if
too large, will be torn into chunks just small enough to
be swallowed. Digestion is very rapid and pellet regur-

only

there are voracious

gitation

may

occur as quickly as three or four hours

after feeding.

These

pellets are

normally gray, compact

masses averaging an inch and a half to two inches in

nest

largely liquid or semiliquid state


straight

the

is

down beneath

and generally dropped

however, the

If,

clutch of

first

abandoned

later.

Almost invariably

its

nest of a crow, magpie, raven,

hawk, or heron, situated usually about 20

feet

high

near the main stem of a dense tree in the midst of


heavy cover, especially in and around swampy areas.
Unlike most other owls, there

amount

is

evidently a

certain

expended by Asio otus ivilsonianus

of effort

rejuvenating the nest for

own

its

Strips of bark

use.

some mosses or

in

and often
plumage from the female owl. Although it will

are added, as well as


breast

leaves

occasionally nest to heights of 40 or 50 feet in a tree

and

low

as

in

rare

15

and 30

as three or four feet

cases

most

feet in

on protected
rocks, but this

cliff
is

higher altitudes

often

and even on the ground


next

the

height. Nesting

will

is

be between

sometimes done

ledges or in a deep sheltered cleft in

commonly among those birds


of up to about 10,000 feet.

nesting at

In very unusual cases, the owl will actually build

own

nest instead of taking over one that

interlocked sticks

and has

its

was previously

is

flimsily built of poorly

little

uniformity or strength.

used. In such cases the nest

Nests like these are often blown apart by windstorms.

Once
in, it is

Defecation occurs regularly, with fecal matter in a

range,

destroyed, a second laying will be made, be-

is

ginning about twenty days

length and about three-fourths of an inch in width, being

roughly oval in shape.

its

its

essentially a single-brooded bird

is

a nesting has begun and the female has settled

very difficult to

make

her leave. Usually she will

watching and waiting while the male does all


he can to decoy or drive the intruder away. Only if
sit

in

it,

matters become extremely threatening will she actively

the roosting bird.

join in

and help her mate defend the

nest,

eggs,

or

young.

COURTSHIP AND MATING


Since the Long-eared
turnal of our owls, few

Owl is among
humans have

the most noc-

ever witnessed

the courtship machinations and, as a result, this aspect


of

the

life

history

of

Asio

been well described. Some

otus

ivilsonianus

has

the male will perform a series of dives

and wing clap-

pings over the perched female, but since

this

closely

{Asio flammeus flammeus)

The male

casionally with

deliberately

but

some

it

is

known
sort

delicately

hers; however, this


tion, as

is

misidentification

As few

a pos-

corded.

to present the female oc-

of prey

takes

animal, which she

from

his

beak with

not always done. Actual copula-

has been witnessed, occurs swiftly, sometimes

on the ground but more often on a low limb


cover, and
tree.

78

is

less

often on

the

in

Number per nesting


Owl will lay four or five

Owl

resembles the courtship action of the Short-eared

sibility.

EGGS

not

observers have claimed that

dense

limb of a well-exposed

as three

and

as

Customarily
eggs and

many

less

the

Long-eared

often six or seven.

as eight

have been

re-

Color Pure white, sometimes slightly nest-stained


with rusty spots, but mostly unblemished and with no
tinge of any other color.

Rounded

Shape

oval, virtually without exception.

Very smooth and glossy.


Based on a sampling of 112 eggs measured,

Texture
Size

the average size

mm.

is

40.9

mm.

(1.6")

in length

(1.3") in width, with extremes of:

Long-eared Owl

by 33.3

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum
Interval

length:

43.4

length:

35.1

width:

37.6

width:

30.0

Almost

egg-laying

of

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.7")

ception

(1.4")

at

(1.5")

about

48

12; latest,

June

Southern Canada:

5; normally

between

April

earliest,

May

May

9 and

is

quite well developed

tooth has disappeared by the seventh day

but the young bird

hours apart.
Egg-laying dates

the facial disk, which

The egg

(1.2")

always

is

hatching and covered with scraggly white down.

now

quite sluggish, though by

still

is

more dense white down. This


begins being replaced by juvenal plumage as early as
well covered in a

the seventh day, but usually not until the eighth day.

At

this stage

the babies

still

tend to cower in fear

if

disturbed.

19-

New

England and

May

latest,

New York

earliest,

31; normally between April

By about the

March

and

May

19

ter. If

15-

East:

earliest,

March

14;

latest,

May

between March 29 and April II.


Midwest: earliest, March 15; latest,
between March 20 and April 24.
West: earliest March 27;
tween April 7 and May 8.

latest

30; normally

to freeze

in

position;

but

if

the danger does not go

away immediately they become very

May

6; normally

actions,

June

2;

normally be-

aggressive in their

snapping their beaks, hissing loudly, and stand-

ing erect with their outstretched

wings inverted and

every feather upraised, in an accurate parody of the


defensive posture of the parents.

During the third week it is not uncommon for at


least one and sometimes several of the young birds to
fall from the nest, but they flutter to the ground and
are not usually hurt. Parental care continues on the
ground for them. At this stage they are about halfgrown, with their primaries and secondaries well emerging from their sheaths. Body plumage is now welldeveloped "soft plumage" which, on the upperparts, is
dusky. These feathers have white tips which give the

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS
Data are not conclusive in this regard, but certainly
less than 2
days nor more than 28 probably most
often 24-25 days. The male provides food while the
female incubates and she will sit so tightly on her eggs
that she can usually be approached and touched while
on the nest.

no

fifteenth to eighteenth day the young


undergone a noteworthy change of characdanger threatens at the nest their first act will be

birds have

bird a sort of "frosted" appearance, especially on head


and hindneck. The underparts are generally a pale
buff, again with whitish tips, and with from two to
four dusky narrow bands on each feather. The similar
bands on the feathers of the back are somewhat more
clearly defined. There is long grizzled down on the
thighs, but the tail feathers are still unsheathed. At
this stage the facial disks are becoming very dark.
Around the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day (but
possibly not until the twenty-eighth day)

YOUNG AND FAMILY

on crown and hindneck

LIFE

and

tail

feathers

winter plumage

The

birds are hatched at intervals of about two days


and in the larger broods the eldest fledgling is
two weeks of age or older and fairly well fledged before

apart,

The

result

is

that not in-

frequently the youngest one or two in the nest do not


survive.

Within the

first

three days

after

being trod

upon and shoved around by the older fledglings the


youngest become very weak. At this point it is not rare
for them to be killed and devoured by their nestmates.
Again, this occurs most often in overlarge broods, and
in the

normal brood of four or

five

young,

it

be replaced by short,

soot-colored feathers with very bright white

CHARACTERISTICS

the youngest has hatched.

starts to

the frosting

is

un-

common.
At hatching, the eyes of the babies are closed; they
do not begin opening until the third or fourth day.
They are nearly naked, and only on the principal
feather tracts is there a meager white down. The ex-

is

are

tips.

Wings

growing rapidly and the

well on the

way

to

first

replacing the

downy plumage. This is completed first on the back


and then on the underparts.
By this time the young are ready to leave the nest
and venture out onto the nearby branches. They still
cannot fly well and usually wind up on the ground
and being cared for and well guarded there by the
parents. However, by about the thirtieth to thirty-fifth
day they can fly well, their wings and tail are identical
to those of the adults, and all the downy contour plumage has been molted away except for perhaps a few
traces remaining on the crown and lower belly.
The young birds continue to be fed by the parents,
even after learning to fly, until about the end of the
ninth week; even then the family tends to remain together through the remainder of

and perhaps even through

Long-eared

Owl

summer and autumn

the winter.

79

mally,

birds of the race that are going to migrate in

all

any given year will have done so by the beginning of


December, with the return northward well underway
by March.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
Although a certain amount of damage
songbird

nesting period, this

mal,

year-round

rodents

during

populations

damage
of

diet

which make

is

large

an economic

is

done to
Owl's

Long-eared

not extensive.

Its

nor-

numbers of injurious

up 80 per cent

prey devoured each year

all

the

to

90 per cent of

make

clearly

this

bird

asset.

WESTERN LONG-EARED OWL


(COLOR PLATE XIIISEE
ENDPAPERS)

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

LONG-EARED OWL

Asio otus tuftsi Godfrey. Original description:

Asio otus wilsonianus (Lesson)

otus

Volume

Number

61,

(February

The Canadian

Godfrey,

tuftsi

November-December,

6,

Asio

Field-Naturalist,

1947

1948), page 196; based on a specimen


from South Arm, Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan,
Canada.
13,

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

OTHER NAMES
Breeds from southern Manitoba (Shoal Lake), western and southern Ontario, southern Quebec

John),

New

(Lake

Canadian

St.

Brunswick (Woodstock), and Nova Scotia

Oklahoma (Kenand Virginia.


Winters from eastern Canada southward to southern
Texas (Brownsville), Louisiana, Alabama, Florida
(Cape Sable), and the Bermudas, but is accidental in
Cuba.

owl

After

part

of

geo-

graphic range.

long-eared

(Kentville), southward to northern

ton, Gate), Arkansas,

long-eared

owl

Erroneously, since

it

is

the West-

ern form and should always be listed with that descriptive term.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The

MIGRATION

is

decided winterly southward movement

regular with Asio otus wilsonianus, though

some years than

is

far

more

As men-

quite gregarious during these migrational

is

periods, particularly in the western United States. Nor-

So

factor

disks, breast,

tioned,

others.

fairly

in

it

and most immediately apparent differtuftsi and Asio otus wilsonianus

one of coloration. The western race

paler;

pronounced

in

greatest

ence between Asio otus

and

particularly
belly

is

noticeable

generally

much

on the

facial

plumage. The markings on the

underparts of the Western Long-eared

Owl

are

and the

facial

disks

the rufous coloration

which

so distinguishes the

less

distinct

Western Long-eared

Owl

much

have an absence of

Long-

The Western Long-eared Owl's facial


brown which may range from as

eared Owl.

are a pale tawny


as

an

disks
light

brown,

over-all pale buff to a distinct yellowish

but never with reddish traces.

TOTAL LENGTH
Asio otus tuftsi tends to average just slightly
over-all

than Asio

length

wilsonianus.

otus

length for the western subspecies

total

is

less in

Average

mm.

335.3

(13-2").

TAIL LENGTH
though

Surprisingly,

it

smaller than Asio otus wil-

is

sonianus in total length, the


tuftsi

length of Asio

tail

averages slightly longer at 154.6

mm.

otus

(6.1")

VOICE
The Western Long-eared Owl

Owl and

the Long-eared

is

is

less

vociferous than

normally quiet throughout

WESTERN LONG-EARED OWL

most of the year except during the breeding season.

Even then

does not call with as great frequency or

it

with as wide a variety of


sonianus.

The

calls

does Asio otus wil-

make

are basically similar*

does

Long-eared

to those of the

pitch, except for a

Owl

in tonal

it

Asio otus

utters

infrequently,

tuftsi

Godfrey

and

quality

few muted, rather mournful moan-

which seem
the repertoire of the Long-eared Owl.

ing sounds

absent in

it

calls as

to

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

be

Even more

reclusive than Asio otus wilsonianus

and

rarely seen by the casual observer, preferring to spend


all

daylight

hours

in

very

the

deepest

creek

valley

tangles or dense coniferous areas near streams, ponds,

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

swamps, or

lakes.

Generally lighter, especially on the underparts, than


Asio otus wilsonianus, although the ear tufts are

dark brown and conspicuous.

The

EGGS

as

lighter facial disks,

lacking in rusty tone, can sometimes be very pale buff,

though they are normally a tan coloration. All underparts have a good bit of whitish and pale yellowish
buff

as

the

considerably

ground color and the streaks and


less distinctly

sonianus, although by no

soft, pale,

bars,

all

respects

to

and

of Asio

those
is

March

June 10, with the height of the egglaying season falling between March 26 and May 18.
13

latest

is

defined than in Asio otus wil-

means absent. The flanks are


and are generally unspotted.

yellowish sandy

The upperparts

are similar to those of the Long-eared


Owl, although essentially lighter, having less rufous undertone and generally a mottled tawny, gray and blackish, with wings and tail barred as in Asio otus wilsonianus.

Virtually identical in

otus wilsonianus except that earliest laying

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Breeds

from

southern

Mackenzie

(Fort

Simpson,

Columbia (Nulki
Lake), and extreme southwest Manitoba (Whitewater
Fort

Western Long-eared

Providence),

Owl

central

British

81

Lake),

central

southeastern)

and

southwestern

(and

narrowly

ern California (including Catalina Island), northwest-

em

MIGRATION

to

Saskatchewan, then southward to south-

30N.), southern Arizona (Bates Well, Pima County, Santa Rita Mountains), New Mexico (Sante Fe) and western Texas.
Baja California

(to

Lat.

Winters from southern Canada south


Baja California, Sonora

(Tiburon

to

Island),

northern

There is a slight migration of the Western LongOwl, especially toward the coastal areas in
Washington State, Oregon, and northern California
during late autumn, but never a truly general movement of the subspecies.
eared

and Du-

rango.

Accidental in Alaska (Taku River).

82

Western Long-eared

Owl

meadow owl

After another type of habitat the bird

likes.

northern short-eared owl


the

SPECIES

more northerly specimens

Especially applied to

race

the

of

within

its

range.

palmetto owl

After the type of habitat preferred

by the owl in Florida, especially during breeding season.

ORDER:

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY

STRIGIDAE

owl

Another name applied


form of habitat the bird prefers.
prairie

in respect to

swamp owl

Actually a misnomer, since the owl


marsh areas rather than the tangled tree
areas of true swamps.
tecolote orejas cortas de pontoppidan Mexican-

prefers treeless

GENUS:

Asio Brisson

SPECIES

flammeus

Pontoppidan

name

Indian

meaning

"Pontoppidan's

Small-eared

Owl."

SUBSPECIES
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
flammeus (Pontoppidan)

Essentially about the size of a large crow, the Short-

SHORT-EARED

eared

OWL

eared

Owl
Owl

only very slightly larger than the Long-

is

(Asio otus wilsonianus)

but with a

much

wider distribution and far more often seen because of


its diurnal habits. The ear tufts, after which it has been
named, are very small and widely separated and not a
reliable factor for identification, since more often than
not they are lying flat against the head and not perceptible. Even when raised they are not especially easy to

SHORT-EARED OWL
{COLOR PLATE XIV)

when

discern but,

mark. These ear

and only

SCIENTIFIC

rarely

discernible,

a positive identity

are

almost never raised in

tufts are

when perched. There

is

flight

a distinctive ob-

long patch of black on the underwing near the wrist, at

NAME AND

the base of the primaries, similar to that on the Long-

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

Owl and

a good identifying mark. There are also


wing patches which become visible in flight
and provide good identity markings. The facial disks
are somewhat small for the size of the owl, with the
superciliaries extending into the facial disk on each side
ear

large buffy

Asio flammeus flammeus (Pontoppidan). Original de-

flammea Pontoppidan, Danske Atlas,


1763, page 617, plate 25; based on a specimen taken in Sweden. Former scientific names: Brachyotus palustris, Brachyotus palustris americanus, Otus
scription:

Volume

Strix

i,

instead of running parallel with the supraorbital facial

rim

brachyotus, Strix brachyotus, Strix accipitrina, Asio ac-

flammea.

cipitrina, Strix

as in other owls.

Rank

in

over-all

size

among

the

eighteen

species:

Seventh.

OTHER NAMES
SHAPE AT REST
owl Because of its preference
meadow grasses or marsh grasses.

grass
deep
le

hibou

name meaning

oreilles

The body shape

French-Canadian

"Short-eared Owl."

le hibou des marais


ing

courtes

for areas of

marsh owl

French-Canadian name mean-

frequents.

Because of one form of habitat

perched, although at times


self as

"Marsh Owl."

tends

owl

it

is

rather bulky

when

can and docs elongate itnormal perching it

a camouflaging measure. In
to

American
this

of this owl

lean
owls,

forward more than most other North

and therefore takes on the general

as-

pect in silhouette of a hawk, though with the head far


less distinctly

Short-eared

Owl

outlined and seemingly neckless.

83

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

punctuated by very

sionally

steep,

dives toward

swift

the ground.
Especially as

owl appears very similar to


but can be distinguished from that bird

Marsh Hawk

the

by

ranges back and forth low over marsh

it

and meadows,

grasses

much

its

Measurements have been based on 9 measured


and 6 females.

tail,

WEIGHT

in flight,

The underparts

Species average

underwing patches all the more distinctive.


When wheeling low over marshes and meadows, these
patches become very evident, even from considerable dis-

286.9 gr.

(10.0 oz.)

Minimum
Maximum

261.3 g r

in

weight

perch

to

perch

(11.8 oz.)

276.0 gr.

9.7

oz.)

oz.)

429.4 gr. (15.0 oz.)


the eighteen species: Seventh.

among

mm.

(15.5").

Male
Average

385.8

Minimum
Maximum

336.3

Rank

usually relatively short, covering a

is

(12.1

Species average: 394.5

the ground

to

9- 2

336.5 gr.

TOTAL LENGTH

and rather
sloppy in character as the bird ranges back and forth in
quest of prey, although the wingbeat is buoyant and
easy, interspersed with long glides. The flight from
low

345.9 gr.

FLIGHT PATTERN
is

oz. ).

Female

Average

Rank

tances.

flight

3ii.7gr. (10.9

Male

the black

Normally,

making

are distinctly light in coloration,

birds:

3 males

blunt-headed and bull-necked


and the absence of the highly diswhite rump patch which the Marsh Hawk wears.
shorter

appearance
tinctive

this

429.2

in total

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

from 200 to 300 yards, but in a


rather zigzagging manner, not too unlike that of the
Nighthawk, but not as markedly agile.

Female
(15.2")

403.2

(13.3")

363.4

(16.9")

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

(15.9")

(14.3")

(17.1")
434-7
the eighteen species: Eighth.

direct-line distance of

The wingbeats
During

its

ranging

flight

(See Courtship and Mating.)

flight

terrupted by brief mothlike hoverings as

watch

or a low perch,
ally into the

glide.

When

back,

spills

rises in

is

Average

pauses to

it

detected

it

raises its

into

Rank

normally slightly faster and with

less

Short-eared

Owl

distinctive:

shares

to vary

a flight

much from

plane upon which they are held.

owl were holding

its

characteristic

very

is

It is

tips

and

them-

wings steady and flapping

unusual

flight

tips are

mm

(44- 1 ")

I20 -3

>

characteristics

almost out of sight of unaided

mm.

(12.2").

284.9

in

321.3

mm.
mm.
mm.

Female
(11.8")

318.9

(11.2")

290.8

(12.7")

336.7

mm.
mm.
mm.

(12.6")
(11.5")

(13.3")

wing length among the eighteen species: Seventh.

TAIL LENGTH

human

vision.

This

it

is

is

more common during the breeding season than

other times of the year, and such high flight

is

at

occa-

(5-9")-

Male
Average

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

Asio

of

mm.

Species average: 150.2

brought up

flammeus flammeus is its proclivity for high flight


often 200 to 300 feet high, but sometimes so high that

84

(39.8")

(4 2 -9")

(4 21 ")

the

if

high over the back.


the

Minimum
Maximum

body
sweep of

accomplished and the wing

of

299.1

its

actively ranging close to the ground, while the upstroke

One

mm.

wingspan among the eighteen species: Seventh.

Average

Rank

There is a notable lack of the full


wingbeat so common among most birds of prey. The
downstroke is usually slow and steady when the bird is
swiftly

1,009.8

the horizontal

almost as

instead.

is

mm

(38.2")

Male

the body has the appearance of rising

do not seem

1,067.4

Species average: 309.0

lowering with each wingbeat, while the wing


selves

mm

gliding than that

Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) which

with the

1,088.9

(41. 1")

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

is

performed by the Marsh Hawk.

The

in

970.2

Female

mm.
mm.

its

The wingbeat

tall grasses.

(41.6").

first

its

wings over

out the air and drops with unexpected sud-

denness out of sight in the

1,042.8

Minimum
Maximum

a rather hurried manner, usu-

wind and often going quickly


prey

in-

is

mm.

Male

from the ground

for prey. In taking off


it

Species average: 1,055.1

while hunting, there are fre-

quent times when the forward, zigzagging


listen or

WINGSPAN

are normally silent except during the

courtship maneuverings.

in tail

mm.

(5.8")

154.3

135.9

mm

(54")

39-4

mm
mm

149.9

mm.

(5.9")

158.8

mm.

length

among

variety of field sketches

Owl

acteristic of the species.

Owl

(6.1")

(5-5")
(6.3")

the eighteen species: Ninth.

done mostly

in

northern Illinois of

(Asio flammeus flammeus). Note the

seemingly neckless shape of the bird

Short-eared

the Short-eared

Female

146.1

in flight,

which

is

char-

**<~\

,r/'

e^ trt

Tit

Offer!

mom

ouyJ

f\a*t <&+f'1W-e

....

fa.K,

.*

^t^h'o^s

"'^O

BEAK LENGTH

enormous development of the actual ear parts, with the


and that is as long as
the skull is high
and proportionately broad. It has
ear cavity fully two inches long

Species average: 17.3

mm.

Male
Average

16.9

Minimum
Maximum

15.8

Rank

18.7

mm.
mm.
mm.

beak length

in

(0.7").

Female

(0.7")

17.7

(0.6")

16.8

(0.7")

19.9

among

mm.
mm.
mm.

been stated that the hearing of Asio flammeus flammeus


is so acute that it can hear the footfalls of a beetle at

(0.7")

(0.7")
(0.8")

the eighteen species: Ninth.

upward of 100 yards, the running of a mouse at 250


yards, and the squeaking of a mouse at an eighth of a
mile. This owl, incidentally, decoys well to the simu-

lated squeaking of a rodent.

The

legs

LEGS, FEET,

TALONS

and

flammeus flammeus are

feet of Asio

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

densely feathered to the base of the entirely black


ons.

The

legs are

somewhat longer than might be

pected for an owl of

mm.

44.5

(1.8")

this

size

ex-

the tarsus measuring


but because of the

on the average

usual squatty posture of the perched bird, this

is

not

apparent in casual observation. Leg plumage on the

brown-phase bird

is

warm

buffy coloration, while on

the gray-phase bird the coloration

is

a pure white or

dusky white. The bird's gripping strength with

slightly

the feet

is

and the talons are very sharply

fairly strong

MOLT

tal-

Tending

toward one another, the ear


and inconspicuous, more often than
not held flat to the head and projecting from slightly
closer to the center of the head than do those of the
Horned Owls {Bubo virginianus sp.), the Screech Owls
(Otus asio sp.), or the Long-eared Owls (Asio otus sp.).
The plumage is reasonably tight to the body contour,
though perhaps not quite as much so as in the Longeared Owl. Because of the squat posturings of the bird,
there

pointed.

to lean or curve

tufts are very small

is

an

the impression that the

which
bird elongates itself on
ier;

illusion

plumage

is

when

dispelled

is

much
the

bulk-

perched

perch for purposes of camou-

its

flage.

EYES AND VISION


The Short-eared Owl has excellent vision any time of
day or night and may be seen ranging for food on a
bright, sunny afternoon as well as during the midst of
night, although cloudy days are preferred and late evening

is

tlingly

The
much in

the peak hunting period.

bright lemon yellow,

irides

still

The

Short-eared

probably makes greater use of vision in hunting


the

nocturnal owls, but hearing

strictly

more important

a complete progressive molt of

is

sense in this respect.

all

plumage.

VOICE

Be-

around both eyes, the eyes seem abnormally deep-set


and the general aspect of the bird is one of dissipation.
As with so many owls, quite often this bird will wear a

than the more

is

are star-

cause of the unusual darkness of the plumage close

Owl

ber,

contrast to the

darkness of the surrounding facial-disk plumage.

very distinctly cross-eyed expression.

There are two molts each year. The first is a molting


body plumage only, which begins in January and
is completed by mid-March. The second molt, begun in
late July or early August and finished by mid-Novemof the

The

Short-eared

Owl

much

less

not entirely silent during the

is

non-breeding periods as

sometimes stated, but

is

it

is

compared to the courtship


its more common calls is a

vociferous then as

and nesting

time.

One

of

penetrating barking sound,


very small dog. This call

is

much

like the

yapping of a

repeated over and over for

long periods, but almost always the delivery


of three notes, sounding

much

like:

is

in a series

ANK-ANK-ANK

ANK-ANK-ANK ANK-ANK-ANK ANK-ANK-ANK.


After a series of eight of these triplet yappings there
usually a slight pause before another series begins.

is

Not

EARS AND HEARING


XXI

The
owls,

is

auditory sense, as in the other North American

most acute and well performs

in the predatory habits of the

because of

its

more diurnal

more often used

in

markedly
86

as

vital function

Short-eared Owl. But

habits, the eyes

and

ears are

strictly

nocturnal owls.

The

ear

asymmetrical in placement, though not so


in

Otus

asio floridanus

many

species.

There

is,

however, an

OWL

(Ridgway). Male, female. Gray-phase

male: Amelia Island, Nassau County, Florida, December 2,


1950. Red-phase female: Indian River County, Florida, Sep-

tember

concert for the location of prey

than are those of the


cavities are

its

FLORIDA SCREECH

11, 1939.

A.O.U. Number 373-A


XXII

SAGUARO SCREECH OWL

Otus asio gilmani Swarth. Female.

Ten

Maricopa County, Arizona, November


in the 1957 A.O.U. Check-list

Short-eared

Owl

miles east of Sentinel,


16, 1929.

Not included

aT7rou^i

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

infrequently there wiil be a prolonged single sound like

A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-N-N-N-K

after the eighth series has

been uttered.

When

solitarily

hunting, the bird tends to issue a

soft,

persistent cooing note that has a pleasing musical qual-

The same

ity.

call

TOOT-TOOT-TOOT-TOOT.

distinct sort of

As

the case with the Long-eared Owl, the Short-

is

eared

sometimes uttered during the

is

Courtship and Mating) as a more

courtship rituals (see

Owl

utters high, shrill distress cries while emulat-

away from the nest area or young birds.


Once in a while this owl, while perched, utters a
muted but shrill series of squeaking sounds similar to
those

made by

made

in anticipation of

a rodent. This could possibly be a call

rodent, although this

ground color of almost pure white on the undertail

and belly, shading into a faint creamion the breast and sides, while the adult females are
a distinct orangish buff on these parts. There is some
speculation that such color differences may be due to
coverts, flanks,

ness

ing an injured bird on the ground to decoy an intruder

time.

There is a surprising difference in coloration between


male and female birds, with the female almost always a
good bit darker in general. Some males will have a

hearing a reply from a nearby


entirely speculative as of this

is

weak, whistling

cry,

two

usually given only

it is

color phase or seasonal changes, but they occur so gen-

on a year-round

erally

that there seems greater

basis

reason to believe that the difference

distinctly sexual.

is

Not unexpectedly, the female is slightly larger than the


male, and her voice is more shrill and squeaky, though
with

less

of the hoarse quality of the

male

bird.

or three times before the bird lapses into silence.

When

approaching the nesting area where there are

young birds waiting, the adults tend


note that sounds

much

as

cut with a hacksaw. This

by a

may

clear, whistling squeal,

to

raspy

issue a

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

a piece of metal were being

if

may

or

not be followed

Nesting cannibalism has been noted on several occa-

degenerating into a muffled,


sions,

The young birds in the nest


once with a sound much like that of steam

sneezy, half-barking cry.

spond

at

caping from a broken pipe


three seconds

When

and

is

the

sound

lasts

re-

repeated two or three times.

adult then breaks into a scolding note

similar to that of a disturbed sea gull,

directed at the intruder.

subdued manner,

is

given

(The same

and

is

is

evidently far

of

little

more the exception than

consequence in the general pic-

on the

ture of infant mortality. Extensive tabulations

mortality rates, in the nest or out of

though

wide variety of strange cries, usually beginning with a


low sound like KL'K! which evidently warns the young

The

this

es-

for about

danger threatens, the adults give voice to a

to be silent.

but

the rule and

it

is

are lacking;

it,

generally believed that mortality

is

some-

what less than that among owls inclined to nest in


abandoned nests of hawks or crows. Several captive
Short-eared Owls have been known to reach fifteen
years of age, though no data are available on longevity

this cry is.

in the wild state.

more

note, in a

when one Short-eared Owl

inadvertently invades the hunting territory of another.)


It

may

raspy

then be followed by a variety of squeals, shrieks,

cries,

chucklings,

Young and

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

and weird groanings.

adult birds alike snap their beaks and

hiss at intruders.

This sound

is

further varied by the

Asio flammeus flammeus

adults with a "poofing" sound, like a short exhalation,

At

times, while flying at great height, the

male (and

Screech

Owl (Otus

phase and a gray phase.

This

generally a light

call,

and quite
ing

it

may

gives voice to a steady,

strangely enough,
difficult to locate,

is

some degree dichro-

to

extremely ventriloquial

even though the bird

issu-

naevius)

asio

monotonous, four-per-second tooting call which lasts for as few


as 14 notes or as many as 30, but usually around 20.
possibly the female)

is

matic, although not as pronouncedly so as

followed by a sort of purring growl.

warm

SCREECH OWL

iable,

Otus asio hasbroucki Ridgway. Male. Vicinity of Kerrville.


Kerr County, Texas, February 8, 1915. A.O.U. Number 373-I
XXIV

Otus

asio inyoensis Grinnell.

Male. Ten miles south of Inde-

pendence, Inyo County, California, February

Number 373-O

7,

1940.

A.O.U.

brown

widely

legs are

warm brownish

is

white or

a cold gray

tinge.
is

highly var-

not only because of dichromatism, but varying

among

same color phase, ranging

birds of the

from buffy white


excluding those

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL

and

is

In general, coloration of the underparts

HASBROUCK

buff to deep sandy coloration.

Similar plumage in the gray-color-phase bird

without any of the


XXIII

is

In the brown color phase of the Short-eared Owl, the


features of breast, belly, undertail coverts,

only faintly creamy white, and the gray

be clearly in view high above.

the Eastern

is

There

to

of

warm
the

orangish tan. Each feather,

rump,

has

blackish-brown

on the feathers of
the shoulders, nape, back, and breast. Stripes on the
belly and sides are considerably narrower and gradually
center stripe. This striping

Short-eared

Owl

is

heaviest

87

disappear

until,

tail coverts,

on

flanks, legs,

lower

they are entirely absent.

belly,

GENERAL HABITS AND

and under-

The rump plumage

CHARACTERISTICS

more of a reddish buff, each feather with indistinct


brown crescent markings.
The wing coverts are well mottled with irregular
slaty brown and orangish buff. Normally, five bands of

Short-eared

buff or orange buff cross the dusky-brown secondaries.

in

is

The
ish

inner primaries

brown

may

to light buff,

range from markedly orang-

becoming darker near the ends,

but tipped in a broad buffy termination. This buff

ping becomes vague or

may even

ermost primaries, and the

quills

be absent on the out-

here have three to

rather square, irregular splashings of dusky


the outer webs.

The primary

vague

times two)

series of

tip-

five

brown on

coverts have one

orangish-brown spots on a

in

Facial-disk coloration

black.

may

but with each

bristle shafted

much deeper

to a

orange brown, but always with those feathers encir-

brown

to black.

The

the

activities,

is

Marsh Hawk because

and tends
while

It

much

most apt

is

it

favors the

same

sort of habitat

back and forth low

to range

hunting,

Hawk.

to

manner

the

in

to the

ground

the

Marsh

of

be seen in the hours from mid-

afternoon to early dusk, especially on overcast or par-

cloudy days.

tially

Next
species

Barn Owl {Tyto alba pratincola)

to the

among

is

this

the most cosmopolitan of owls.

It

is

found on all continents except Australia, and ranges


from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle. It is not
particularly bothered by cold weather,

and there

is

lit-

migrational inclination; though during the worst of

tle

may

the owl

winter's inclemencies,

take a temporary'

refuge under a sheltered creek-bank overhang or on

leeward side of fence rows which have become

the

heavily bedecked with tumbieweed.

widely variable and

is

range from a dingy buff white

cling the eyes very distinctly dark

Owl

day-hunting

frequent

its

one of the most commonly seen owls


North America, although it is very often mistaken for

(some-

background of plain dusky brown. The tail may range


from orange brown to light buff and is usually crossed
by five equally wide slate-brown bands on the middle
feathers, but narrower bands on the outer feathers. All
rectrices terminate in an equally broad band of orange
brown or dusky buff.
Throat, chin, and superciliaries are a dull white. The
lores are similarly colored,

Because of

Asio fiammeus flammeus


otus wilsonianus, although
in pairs,

not as gregarious as Asio

is

often witnessed hunting

is

it

even during the non-breeding seasons, leading

to the supposition that

it

mates for

In most cases,

life.

brown,

however, the birds are rarely found closer together than

and blackish, except at the ear coverts,


where they become uniformly slaty black. The beak
and talons are black.
The underwing coverts range from pale buff to pure,

200 yards, even when mates. Some observers have noted

mottling of the facial rims

is

irregularly orange

grayish, dull buff

unblemished white except for the conspicuous blackish-

brown spot

usually

of oval or crescent shape

which

appears on the terminal half of the greater underwing


coverts.

buffy

The

white,

underside of the

primaries

marked with one or two

is

normally

(usually

two

broad grayish or dusky-buff bands.


It is interesting to

note that the plumage of birds in-

lighter than that of birds residing in

more inland

areas.

some extent

will associate to

and,

sp.)

even more surprisingly, with Marsh Hawks. There seems


to be

something of a mutual

well,

among Burrowing Owls, Long-eared Owls, and


Owls

Short-eared

those

in

agreement, as

territorial

areas

where

their

ranges

tend to overlap. In such areas, each bird seems to enjoy

uncontested privilege of hunting in

the

area of terrain

habiting sandy coastal regions tends to be considerably

Owl

that the Short-eared

with Burrowing Owls (Speotyto cunicularius

the

Owl

particular

meadows,
edges; the Burrowing Owl

Short-eared

marshes, and cereal grainfield

in the

and open sagelands; the Long-eared Owl


woodland groves and thickets.
When flushed from cover in marsh or deep grasslands, the Short-eared Owl will take to wing easily the
in the pastures
in the

first

time and

tends to

sit

fly

200 or 300 yards befare

settling,

but

it

rather tightly after that and rarely will flush

again unless nearly trod upon.

flammeus

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


are generally a rather dark brown or
brown, with each feather tipped quite broadly

The

facial

disks

are invariably a

uniform brownish black. Underparts are generally dull


in

color,

Wings and

88

ranging
tail

from orange buff

characteristic

the fact that

it

seems

of

Asio

flammeus

to take considerable

any intent to kill or even inflict injury, but evidently for


something akin to amusement. This action has been

The upperparts

with orangish buff.

is

unusual

sport in the harassment of large birds in flight, not with

JUVENILE
slaty

rather

to

smoky

are similar to those of adult birds.

gray.

observed

many

times

swooped and struck

as

the

Short-eared

at such flying birds as

Owl

has

Great Blue

Herons, egrets, cranes, vultures, and occasionally even


at

waterfowl resting on pond surfaces.

ably agile
aerial

Short-eared

Owl

flier,

It

is

a remark-

sometimes performing rather astonishing

maneuvers.

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

picked up and handled. This,

should be noted,

it

common an attribute among the


among nestlings and yearling flying

as

In preference of habitat, the Short-eared

Owl

is

one

of the most varied species. While primarily a bird of


marshland and deep grass fields, it is often found in
open woodlands, desert areas, sagelands, open fields,

pastures,

mountain

park areas, prairielands, lower

city

villages,

arroyos, woodland ravines,


and salt-water bogs, swamps,

canyons,

slopes,

scrub-oak cover, freshtundra, stubble

and other such

More

dunelands, croplands, orchards,

fields,

often than not a ground-roosting bird,

and

often merely alight

roost,

its

it

prewill

at

will roost in

it

it

although

an indistinguishable
or overgrown meadow-

sleep

spot in the midst of a rye field


land. Occasionally

will threaten

it

with

Among

more evident

in

low brush, especially

an

if

ever, will

it

roost in

most often seen when inadvertently


individual progressing through deep

flushed

by

grasses,

particularly

low, wet

is

bad weather during win-

than at other times. Rarely,


is

rarely used the

it

beak

in

most interesting defensive measures are


when its offspring are endangered. At
the approach of an intruder, when it seems that detection of nest and young birds is imminent, one or both
parent birds will feign injury

on the fringe of a marshland or

meadow.

than the other. Probably

earlier

to

flushes

effort to lead the in-

He

30

first.

then in

feet,

it

is

much
who al-

the male

will usually take to

manner

full

wing and

at a height of

lie

fly

about 20

view of the intruder he

will cry

sharply, execute a fluttering tumble to the ground,

and

there with wings outstretched, crying in a piteous

way.

whole variety of

calls

may

be uttered in an effort

to bring the intruder closer to the supposedly injured

with the owl struggling along the ground and

bird,

somehow

just

managing

to stay out of reach

and con-

leading the intruder away. If this ruse

fails,

however, and the intruder continues toward the

nest,

sistently

the bird will take to

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

an

in

truder away. Usually one adult bird will flush

in a peculiarly injured

It

and

Though

feet.

its

roosting will take place in low conifers, but this

hardwoods.

become

back and

in great agitation,

sharply taloned

beak,

its

ways

ter

its

its

an actual attack.

along the fringes of marshes and streams. Less often,

characteristic

beak

its

lash out effectively with

onto

is

those performed

areas.

a dense grass tussock for

fers

menacingly, snap

hiss

itself

it

however,

birds. If,

the danger continues to threaten, the owl can


aggressive indeed. It will throw

not

is

adult birds as

wing and

circle

above him. At

this

time the second bird, the female, will similarly take

are concerned there are few which bother the Short-

wing and both birds will circle and cry close overhead
while the young birds scatter from the nest into the
deeper surrounding grasses a short distance and then
freeze in place. If the danger to the young persists or

eared Owl. Occasionally one will be struck at by a

worsens, the flying adults

As

man

is

common among

the

more cosmopolitan

of owls,

the greatest enemy, but where natural enemies.

is

Prairie Falcon or

Hawk or harassed by
On the whole, however,

Red-shouldered

a crow, magpie, raven, or jay.

smaller birds do not seem to recognize Asio flammeus

flammeus

as

an enemy and tend not

to pester

it,

despite

the fact that during the nesting season this owl will prey

upon a
not,

if

certain

there

Owl

eared

is

number

of smaller birds.

More

an incident of harassment,

itself

that

is

age

is

harassing a heron, crow, hawk,

amazingly effective in camouflaging the bird as

it

amid dried cattail reeds, meadow grasses, weedfield growth, and the like. In addition, this owl has an
amazing facility for alighting on a short, projecting
branch close to the ground or water and so effectively
molding its body to the configuration of the wood that

may

readily be mistaken for a

continuation of the broken stub.

secondary defensive measure

feign death. If discovered

onto
its

its

side

and

lie

and

completely

is

attack,
still

an inclination
it

plunge almost straight downward very close to the

intruder, causing

him

to flinch in

the expected assault. Rarely

The

is

an

effort to

ward

off

contact made, however.

birds will deliberately miss very closely,

and

at a

away for about 100 feet before landing and voicing the
same anguished cries again. The wings are left open
and flapping weakly as a further enticement to the in-

sits

it

will

the Short-

it is

The mottled orangish-buff-brown plum-

even at close range

at-

height of only a foot or two off the grasses they will

In the matter of defenses, protective coloration plays


role.

then even launch an

often than

or vulture.

a major

may

tack of sorts. Flying at a height of about 50 feet, they

may

to

flop over

on the ground with

eyes closed, even to the point of allowing itself to be

truder. If the intruder approaches the

grounded

sail

bird,

the act continues until only about 20 feet separate them,

which time the adult will fold first one wing, then
the other, take off in low flight to the ground for about
another 100 feet, and repeat the act. Sometimes when
the adult drops toward the intruder from its 50-foot
at

height,

it

will

loudness as

it

clap
falls.

its

If

it

wings together with startling


does not feel

it

is

attracting

enough attention on the ground with its thrashing and


cries, it will smack its wings harshly against its own sides
or breast, again causing a loud clapping. For all its defensive antics where its own offspring are concerned,
however, actual attacks of the owl against an intruder
are extremely rare.

Short-eared

Owl

89

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES


The

food

favorite

course, mice

of

primarily

the

Short-eared

meadow

Owl

Mice

voles.

almost the entire bulk of the bird's diet during

The most commonly observed hunting method favored by the Short-eared Owl is a low, ranging pattern
marsh

interspersed with glidings over

and deep

fringes

weedy or meadow areas, much in the manner of the


Marsh Hawk. Its flight is usually level as it hunts, even
broken often with pauses to hover in

in the glides, but

one spot with wings treading

air silently as

listens

it

and

watches for prey. This hovering in a wobbly, mothlike

may

fluttering

last for

a minute before
raising

its

suddenly swoops neatly onto

wings high to

Most commonly this form of hunting


ternoon and early evening.

The

level of

winter

in

ground,

hunting

than

owl tends

this

flight

is

to

is

done

prey,

its

to grasp.

in late af-

somewhat higher

usually

When snow

summer.

in

of half

covers

the

range at a height of about 15

to 20 feet, but zigzagging, pausing, hovering, whirling,

and diving much


ing the wind,

it

as

it

does in summer. Expert at

utiliz-

takes advantage of the air currents over

when

and takes
handled.

in practically
It

flammeus

game

is

during

Quail,

occasional

baby owls;

if

large chunks

Short-eared

example,

down
Then

Owl having caught

feet,

turning

its

branch stub, fence

and

post,

side to side as

will alight

it

manner and

zigzag once

more back and

forth as

resumes hunting in a more active manner.

While the hunting ranges of the Short-eared Owl,


Great Horned Owl and Marsh Hawk overlap, and all
three will patrol the marsh fringes, meadows, stubble
fields, and cut cornfields in search of mice, there is little
in the way of encounters between them, since the Marsh
Hawk hunts mainly by day, especially in the mornings, the Short-eared Owl in the late afternoons and
early evenings, and the Great Horned Owl in late evening and nighttime.
Although normally it prefers the more open areas
for

its

for

holding

it

talons

the smaller birds also taken at this time are rob-

and other thrushes,

sparrows,
kinglets,

meadowlarks, and

pipits, buntings, juncos, various

red-winged

grackles,

sapsuckers,

flickers,

terns.

both hanging and in


beetles,

other small

blackbirds,

Bats are

flight,

roaches,

mammals

cowbirds,

and other woodpeckers,


and

caught,

frequently

larger insects such as

katydids, and
Mice and numerous

grasshoppers,

pocket

are included in the diet:

gophers, ground squirrels, shrews, moles,

rabbits,

rats,

and young muskrats.

quietly, listening for prey, only to rise again in a

sit

hurried
it

it listens and
on an open-ground
hummock, or even bare ground

head from

watches for prey. Often

rail,

into

and jerking savagely with the beak.


the two halves are swallowed whole in turn.
its

large caterpillars are avidly taken.

five to thirty

a black

will generally rip the bird in half,

with

Among
ins

devoured by the adult, they are torn


and swallowed on the spot.

crickets,

from

snipe,

taken to the nest

for the young, they are torn into bits to be fed to the

with consummate

at heights of

pheasants,

will fall prey. If

dunes, sagelands, and grasslands, gliding into the wind


skill

size

numbers of songbirds and some

rails,

and other such birds

times

young
prey expands
which can be

period that Asio flammeus

this

will kill fair

birds.

anything of a

all

there are

owls in the nest. At that time the quest for

out the air and stretching

spill

forward and downward, poised

feet well

its

it

upward

a few seconds or

of the year except for the period

of

is,

constitute

by the Short-eared Owl

Pellet regurgitation

ingly accomplished without

undue

effort;

is

seem-

with one or

two convulsive open-mouth flexings, the mucus-coated


dark-gray pellet, about two inches long and an inch in
diameter, pops from the mouth and is lost among the
deep

grasses

wherever

the

bird

perched.

is

Fecal

wates are vicous in texture, mainly grayish with some


mottling of white or greenish. These latter wastes are
often ejected at the

before

it

moment

rises clear of

the bird takes to flight but

the surrounding grasses.

hunting, Asio flammeus flammeus will frequently

hunt through dense

thickets, heavily

overgrown willow

clumps, and areas of small but densely overgrown evergreens.


it

On

occasion

it

will alight

on the ground where

has seen a rat or mouse pop into a hole and will stand

HARVEST MOUSE AS OWL FOOD

there quietly, straddling the hole for long periods, wait-

ing for the rodent to reappear


often quite successful.

up

its

smaller prey

Most

mice

it

there.

Almost

than the beak.

90

is

all

is

Probably no other creature

in

North America

is

more

quently and consistently taken as prey by almost


it

snatches

without

fre-

is

even

some convenient
the ground and devouring

animal

close to

prey

patience that

often, however,

in particular

alighting, carrying the small

perch nearby that

with a
to

carried in the talons rather

all

owl

species on this continent than the harvest mouse, along with

other mouse species.

The

Short-eared

Owl

in particular preys

very heavily upon this species on a year-round basis. With-

out the control factor that owls exert on harvest-mouse populations,


losses

Short-eared

as

would

Owl

well
result.

as

those

of

other

mice,

great

economic

COURTSHIP AND MATING

the male leveled off at great speed just above the reed-

made a wide circle only inches over them, and


then slowed and settled gently to earth close to the

tops,

The

courtship flight of the male Asio flammeus flammeus, usually occurring in late April or early May, is one
of the most spectacular

The

individual,

who

is

among

North American owls.


fortunate enough to witness it, is

invariably held rooted to the spot in

wonderment

as the

The authors have watched this


on three separate occasions and, while there were minor

aerial display unfolds.

variations each

quences

time, a description of one of the se-

be well representative of what occurs. This

will

McHenry County, Illinois,


about a half mile from the west shore of Wonder Lake.
courtship flight occurred in

It

was a breath-taking exhibition.

Owl

Short-eared
female,

all

rising

began with the male


high above a ground-perched

the while repeating a low-toned series of

ing to fluctuate from the horizontal more than his wings.


This was interspersed with some gliding and occasional

came
became more
calling

and

faintly to us.

all

the male merely stood quietly, as

The female began moving


she was

the while the

Gradually the

pattern

and excited and the owl introduced


an irregular series of short dives and recoveries, dipping
swiftly downward for perhaps a hundred feet and then
erratic

recovering the former altitude with

a steep

upward

curve and rapidly beating wings. During both the diving

and the climbing, the wing tips smacked together rapidly


under the bird's body, with a sharp clapping sound quite
clearly audible to us. The sound was, in fact, suggestive
of a large flag rippling and popping in a very stiff breeze.
To make this sound occur, the male's wings not only are
brought down smartly to meet far beneath the bird, but

three or four feet distant from


his

preening her nape with

his beak.

him when

head and walked to her in a


deliberate manner, stood beside her where she had
stopped, and pressed his shoulder against hers. In a
moment he turned his head to her and gently began

The female

moment

shivered rather strongly after a

and suddenly dropped onto her side on the


ground. At once the male partially straddled her, placing one foot low on her side and bringing his vent acof this

curately into contact with hers.

Copulation evidently

took place immediately and accurately and lasted for

no more than twenty seconds. As soon

made

female

the

pleted,

regained

her

feet,

a low cooing sound, and took

the grasses in a swift, direct line.

as

it

was com-

shook

herself,

off, flying

low over

The male

followed

close behind.

monotoned

flight

still

regaining his breath.

if

gradually closer to him, but

he very gravely dipped

It

whooot-whooot-whooot cries at the rate of about four


notes per second and repeated about 20 times. The male
continued to climb in a steady spiral until he had reached
an altitude of a thousand to fifteen hundred feet. Here
he leveled off and, as we watched through binoculars, began circling with slow, even wingbeats, his body seem-

sideslipping maneuvers,

who had been watching closely all this while.


For perhaps two full minutes after coming to a stop,

female,

all

Observations of others indicate that such copulation


will

recur at intervals over the next few days, some-

more

times with
ally

aerial acrobatics

without them

more

or,

by the male, but usu-

likely,

with an abbrevi-

ated and lower-altitude modification of them.

There
good reason to believe that once a pair have mated,
they remain mated for life and stay reasonably close

is

to

one another the year around.

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

NESTING HABITS

are also extended rearward so that the four or five out-

ermost primaries of each wing are the only ones that

Although occasionally double-brooded in the more


portions of its North American breeding

meet.

This action continued for about ten minutes but was


suddenly interrupted by a whole

series of

wild

maneu-

on jerky wingbeats that seemingly were almost out of control, during which the male bird fell,
recovered, tumbled in an amazing series of somersaults
and roll-overs, and finally dropped in a flaccid and
formless fall as if the bird had been struck dead in
mid-flight. Recovering itself after a drop of at least two
hundred feet, the bird returned to its former peak altitude, circled once very widely, and then dropped in a
long swooping dive punctuated all the way down with
wing clapping and a most peculiar chattering cry

verings

quavering, questioning sort of cry with an eerie and


yet appealing quality to

The

it.

plummeting bird came to the ground


the more certain we became that it could never recover
in time to prevent smashing into the ground with
devastating force. But the dive stopped just in time and
92

closer the

southerly

range, the Short-cared

Owl

is

essentially single-brooded

and almost invariably nests upon the ground. Most often the nest is no more than a slight depression in a
little rise

of ground, well hidden by heavy surrounding

and the depression itself is carelessly


lined with some dried grasses, weed stalks, and occasional feathers from the female's breast. At other
times it may be no more than a shallow dip hollowed
out of bare sand and strangely exposed. Only rarely,
however, will the nesting occur in a low bush, and
evidently never higher up in a tree.
Underground nesting in an abandoned mammal burrow is not too uncommon, and occasionally this owl
reeds or grasses,

will

even dig

slant

for

for another

which

Short-eared

Owl

is

its

perhaps

own burrow. This


two

feet,

two or three

usually a bit

feet,

goes

down

at

moves horizontally
ending in a small chamber
then

more elevated than the

tunnel.

padding of some
and a few feathers, from about 9 to 12 inches
diameter, and up to two inches thick. Most com-

The

nest here will usually be a sparse

grasses
in

monly, though, preference

is

for a nest in dry grasses

on ground level, though often immediately adjacent


to wet ground.
Often the nest will be hidden by a covering arch
of reeds or saw grass; less often, the owl will actually
make a tunnel of sorts through the grasses for 10 or
12 feet, through which it must walk after alighting in

if

sometimes small

nest construction

more commonly,

vegetation; but the nest

does have the

It

sticks

virtue,

is

normally
example,

Owl.

other

affect

always quite sloppily

built.

however, of being extremely

owl

nesting

species.

will often destroy the nest of the

and sometimes those

are

that

for

Fire,

Short-eared

constructed

in

meadow

areas will inadvertently be plowed under by

farmers.

In coastal areas the nests built in

are sometimes too close to the sea,

month move

tides of the

est

bogs

salt

and when the high-

these nests are inun-

in,

dated and the eggs destroyed.

Whenever. a

nest

a second nesting
usually with
initial

is

is

any, trace of glossiness.

amdng

those measured were:

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

nesting.

destroyed in those or other ways,

begun within about two weeks, but

It

44.5

33.0

width:

37.6

width:

29.0

if

the nest

The

Interval of egg-laying

(1.8")
(1.3")

(1.5")
(1.1")

eggs are rarely ever laid

48 hours, and often

at shorter intervals of time than

upward

week

of a

apart, especially in the smaller clutches

of eggs.

Alaska and arctic Canada:

Egg-laying dates

ear-

June 5; latest, July 2; normally between June 10


and June 25.
Southern Canada: earliest, April 30; latest, June 22;
normally between May 4 and June 17.
Northern United States: earliest, April 14; latest,

liest,

June 15; normally between April 23 and June 10.


Midwest: earliest, April 4; latest, June 8; normally
between April 16 and May 25.
Southern California; earliest, March 20; latest, May
18; normally between March 26 and April 26.

disturbed, the adults

is

move their eggs to a new location a


away and continue incubation there.
Quite often the nesting adults

will

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS

short distance

sit

on a raised
and will

The male

tussock or branch stub fairly close to the nest

doze there during the early and middle hours of the


day. If disturbed while

on the

nest, the adult

a short distance away, then stop

may hop
and

re-

turn part of the distance and stand to face the intruder

with angry defiance.

mostly this

is

will

sometimes aid

egg-laying,

accurate establishment of incubation

in question, especially since

some

the second or third egg

may

be

As few
laid,

laid.)

as four

and

as

from five to seven eggs.


There is some color variation in the eggs,
but only of a vague nature. At times they may be dull
white; sometimes they will have a creamy cast to them,
and on rare occasions they may be faintly yellow. Most
ings contain

Color

In most cases,

never

is

less

it

than

The brooding female

many

but the most usual nest-

is

it

is

is

is

time

possible that incuba-

of the larger clutches until

laid.

(In smaller clutches,

probable that incubation begins with the

period

per nesting

but

her mate supplying food to her at the nest for as long

is

as fourteen eggs

the brooding,

as brooding continues. Because of the staggering of the

is

EGGS

in

a job handled strictly by the female, with

tion does not begin in

Number

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

has also been reported, though not

will

and run

length:
length:

fewer eggs deposited than were in the

substantiated, that

off

with
little,

Average egg size for the species, based on the


measurements of 172 eggs, is 39.6 mm. (1.6") in
length and 31.9 mm. (1.3") in width. The extremes

decomposing

bits of

detect.

to

smooth,

quite

is

are used in the

By the same token, such ground


nesting does allow for certain hazards which do not

difficult

surface

shell

Size

order to get to the nest.


If available,

The

Texture

only the faintest suggestion of granulation and

it

egg

first

believed, the full incubation

days nor more than 28.


loath to leave her nest except

under conditions of extreme danger from natural hazards such as fire or flood, or at the direct-line approach
of

an enemy such

enemy

is

as

man, and even then not until the


away and cannot help but

only a few feet

encounter the

nest.

often, however, they are white, with a faint suggestion

of a bluish tinge.

Shape The eggs of the Short-eared Owl are only


slightly more ovate than those of the majority of other
owl species in North America. Rarely do they give the
impression of being practically globular, as do those
of some species.

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS
The
ally

Short-eared

interval

between hatchings of the eggs

about three days, although

Owl

it

may

be as

is

usu-

little

as

93

inches in length and

brown

plumage,

rusty buff.

the

tail

pays

The wing

has not yet appeared.

is

a long,

still

well feathered

is

broadly

feather

feathers have

tipped

with
with

begun growing, but

The down

of the under-

cinnamon buff, and by this


have become a variegated black-

soft,

time the facial disks


ish

back

its

each

brown.

Within the next two or three days the young bird


begins to stray from the nest, but the parent birds keep
close tabs on its whereabouts and continue to tend it
wherever it stops to rest, though this is rarely far from
This away-from-the-nest care continues

the nest

itself.

until the

young bird

is

six

weeks

old.

By the twenty-fourth day the first-winter plumage


has begun to appear through the downy plumage and
the body down is gradually molted as wings and tail
-

continue developing. At the end of the fourth week the

young bird

is

capable of short

flight

but continues to

on the ground, although it now tends to


stray considerably farther from the nest area.
At six weeks of age the fledglings are straying as
much as 150 yards from the nest, keeping to the dense
grasses and causing the parent birds considerable diffistay mainly

culty in

keeping up with them and supplying them

with food.

It

is

at this point that the fledglings begin

catching some of their

#rcpK

own food

principally

insects

and small amphibians.


By the eighth week the young birds fly very well but
remain under the care of their parents. Not until late
September or early October has all trace of down vanished, and then the young birds are fully bedecked in

SHORT-EARED OWL
Asio flammeus flammeus (Pontoppidan'

their first-winter

plumage.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


two days or as much, in rare instances, as fourteen
days. The newly hatched young are quite weak for the
first 18 to 24 hours. During this period they are covered with a short, grayish-white natal down which is
inclined to have a buffy tinge on the upperparts, shading into grayish on the sides and to almost pure white
on median line of breast and belly. The base of this
natal down on wings and sides is darker and tends to
form dark narrow patches or dark lines.
By the end of the fourth day (sometimes as early as
the third day) the natal

a secondary

down

down

starts

being replaced by

and, almost simultaneously, with the

downy plumage, which is very soft and


structure. The secondary down appears all over
and

is

generally long,

but the

first

soft,

and cinnamon buff

downy plumage appears

back. At this time the baby bird

is

about

six

Falls),

Missouri,

southern

northern Indiana, southern Ohio


western

New York

(Cape May) and


,

Illinois

(Circleville)

(Brockport, Buffalo),

(Odin),
,

New

northJersey

the tidewater areas of Virginia.

casionally from southern British Columbia, east-central

on the

inches in

By the tenth day the young are quite active and have
if danger nears, and even
to feign
death if the hazard grows worse. By the twelfth or
thirteenth day the nestling has reached about ten
94

Neosho

the bird

length.

learned to freeze

of

Winters almost throughout breeding range and oc-

in color;

initially

Mackenzie (Franklin Bay),


(Cape Eskimo), southeastern
Baffin Island (Greater Kingwah, Kingnait Fiord), Labrador and Newfoundland, south to southern California
(San Diego County), northern Nevada (Lee), Utah,
northeastern Colorado (Sterling), Kansas (Manhattan,

Keewatin

District

in

loose

first

Breeds from northern Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales,


Point Barrow), northern

Washington, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wis-

and Massouthward to Baja California (Cape San


Lucas), Mexico, Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida
consin, southern Michigan, southern Ontario,

sachusetts,

(Cape Sable)
Casual in Greenland (north to Upernavik District),
Bermuda, Cuba, and Guatemala (Volcan de Agua).
Accidental on St. Bartholemew.

Short-eared

Owl

MIGRATION
Only
eared
in

migrational

slightly

Owl

in

its

seem particularly fatigued and which rested only a


short while before taking wing again, alighted on the
habits,

the

Short-

often prefers to remain throughout the year

one area, tending

more snowy areas

to

move southward

foredeck of a passenger steamer in the Atlantic fully

800 miles from the nearest land.

to escape the

in only the harshest of winters.

It

does not like to remain in areas where the snow completely covers the grass

mally a gregarious bird,

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE

and weeds. Although not norit

may

occasionally be seen in

There can be no doubt whatever, despite its tendkill some game birds and songbirds during its

groups of 20 or 30 birds during those irregular migrational periods. It

a score or

more

is

not

uncommon,

for example, to see

of these birds of prey simultaneously

hunting the same California marshland.


ago, concentrations of

corded

in

some

Long

years

more than 200 birds were reno such extensive gatherings

years, but

have been recorded during the past half century. The


bird

is

certainly a powerful

migrations

if

it

so desires, as

enough
is

flier to

make long

evidenced by

its

casual

appearance on Bermuda, Cuba, and other islands. In


one recorded case, a Short-eared Owl, which did not

ency to

nesting season, that Asio flammeus flammeus

estimable economic benefit to

in

its

is

of in-

reduction of

which comprise as much as 94 per


on an annual basis. There have
been a number of cases in years past when there was
suddenly a superabundance of rodents which wreaked
considerable havoc until Short-eared Owls moved into
the areas in large numbers and decimated the rat and
mouse populations.

injurious rodents,

cent of

Short-eared

man

Owl

its

total diet

95

macjarlanei (Brewster)

MACFARLANE'S
SCREECH OWL

maxwelliae (Ridgway)

ROCKY
MOUNTAIN

SPECIES

SCREECH OWL
mccallii

ORDER:

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

GENUS:

Otus Pennant

SPECIES:

asio

swenki Oberholser

NEBRASKA
SCREECH OWL

yumanensis Miller

YUMA SCREECH
OWL

and Miller

EASTERN
SCREECH OWL

aikeni (Brewster)

AIKEN'S

THE SCREECH OWLS

SCREECH OWL
Linnaeus

brewsteri

Ridgway

CALIFORNIA
SCREECH OWL
BREWSTER'S

SCREECH OWL
cineraceus (Ridgway^

floridanus (Ridgway)

gilmani Swarth

MEXICAN
SCREECH OWL
FLORIDA
SCREECH OWL

inyoensis Grinnell

HASBROUCK'S
SCREECH OWL

differences and more nuances of vocal


and delivery, size and coloration than those
falling under the genus and species Otus asio
the
Screech Owls and because probably no owl is more
familiar to more people on this continent, it becomes
necessary to discuss them in a generic way before movsubtle

quality

96

ing into specifics.

Unfortunately there

is

still

great contention

among

how many

subspe-

various ornithologists about exactly

of Screech Owls there are on the North


American continent. As always, there are factions which
cies (or races)

are sometimes disrespectfully called "the lumpers,"

overlooked and
lumped together under one
nomenclature. At the same time, there are

lar

birds

tions

all

branded

quite simisubspecific

those fac-

who tend to seize upon


how slight, as justification

as "hairsplitters,"

any variation, irrespective of

for the establishment of a subspecies.

entirely right

ble

is

really

determination

of

subspecific difference
is

still

is

time as

new standards

by

factions

Owl

nor,

for that matter,

what actually
very

much

sensi-

constitutes

needed.

valid

great deal

required in this respect, but until such

SCREECH OWL

all

wrong

but a closer meeting of minds and

KENNICOTT'S
Screech

who

prefer to see minor physical, behavioral, and charac-

of effort

(Elliot)

(Linnaeus)

Because no other group of owls in the world has

more

Neither group

SOUTHERN
CALIFORNIA
SCREECH OWL

kennicottii

asio

teristical differences largely

SAGUARO
SCREECH OWL

hasbroucki Ridgway

Otus

SOUTHERN
SCREECH OWL

bendirei (Brewster)

GUADALUPE
SCREECH OWL

Moore

suttoni

(Linnaeus)

naevius (Gmelin)

PASADENA
SCREECH OWL

quercinus Grinnell

SUBSPECIES

asio

TEXAS
SCREECH OWL

(Cassin)

of

are established

the

ornithological

and adhered
fraternity,

to

the

American Ornithological

guidelines established by the

Union seem
This

men

eminent
shall,

taxonomical

in the

University

the

of

Jr.,

should be given short

probably justifiably

Otus

fications in respect to

Arizona

Marshall

shrift.

concerned

Joe T. Mar-

field as

of

Tucson,

at

greatly

is

over the present

asio and, in fact, the entire

(some with subspecific dichromatic color phases) and,


ence

vocal

in

nomy

might better be

or

There

among

muted

is

on the other hand,


syncopated

Otus flammeolus

well in

as

the most

asio

territory

limited,

gives

asio

seven

or

notes.

is

the smallest,

the largest.

is

more

Finally,

Of

only a single hoot.

issues

and

vocal

decidedly slower,

utters

three species, flammeolus


slightly larger,

physiog-

distinct

Otus

these

trichopsis

The

and habitat; flammeolus having


the most extensive. Relatively

asio

meolus, while trichopsis requires thick mixed woods of

and hardwoods

generally at
of habitat

creek
the

much

from

bottoms

East,

middle elevations. Asio

at

West
hardwood

desert terrain in the


prairie

lands,

and hammock,

oak,

live

to forested
forests

for

example

there

among

of territorial overlap

interbreeding.

ences

as

irides

and

meolus

There

West Arislight amount

brown and

The problem

for

Owl

West have much more of a "bouncing-ball"


to their calls and a distinctly doubled trill.

the

quality

Further, the Eastern races are dichromatic, with red (or

brown) and gray color phases, while the Western races


are essentially monochromatic in gray. There are other
geographical differences of note as well, which are
pointed out in the specific descriptions of the various

Owl

Screech

But

races.

just as

Marshall urges a

classification of Eastern

and Western races

Owls, other authorities

feel

the Northern

similarly about separating

and Southern

about

strongly

separating

re-

of Screech

and

races,

those

still

others feel

and humid

arid

of

areas.

What

causes difficulty in establishing separate spe-

cies classifications

between the most

distinctly different

Western and Eastern races of Screech Owls is the


that the characteristics among the Western birds
unfortunately, not entirely constant.
so distinct that they

seem

fact
are,

fication effectively for the

Otus

asio

The

exceptions are

to prohibit blanket reclassi-

Western

For example,

races.

Kennicott's

kennicottii

Owl

Screech

of

the coastal area of the Northwest has the lighter beak

and red color phase of the Eastern races, but its voice
and markings are typically Western. Similarly, Otus
has the markasio mccallii
the Texas Screech Owl
color phase,
red
lacks
a
ings of the Western races and
but its voice and beak color are like those of the

Eastern races.

To compound

the problem further,

some of the

races

tend to interbreed and there are considerable gradations in size, coloration, markings, and tonal qualities

among

the

establish

intergrades.

subspecific

To make any

nomenclature for

real
all

to

effort

these

inter-

grades would indeed be a taxonomic nightmare.

Generally

speaking,

subspecies of Otus
ical

and climatic

with

few

but

exceptions,

the

asio exhibit the following geograph-

characteristics:

the toes are well feathered.

Finer markings.

be noted in the specific

Northern Screech Owls

Larger

establish their identity as

Southern Screech Owls

Smaller

Eastern Screech Owls

Yellow or greenish-yellow

to question in

grows much

instance

in size.

strongly

believe

and West are

beaks.

regard to the

more

Western Screech Owls

that

Slate-gray or blackish beaks.

of

in virtually every type of habitat

races of East

in size.

right.

North America. Some taxonomical authorities

Screech

trilled

Coarser markings.

of classification, however,

which can be found


Marshall,

being a sort of

as

Southern Screech Owls

iris

eighteen subspecific races of Otus asio, one or

in

races

Northern Screech Owls

will

own

and open

difficult

of

Eastern

the

of

of flam-

on these owls) well

distinct species in their

more

three species, but no

are, of course, physiological differ-

Other differences (which


sections

all

certain

their feet are naked, while the


soft

considerably

both asio and trichopsis have yellow

well;

is

is

in

cabbage-palm

or

habitat in the deepest South. Yet, in the

zona,

is

lower altitudes and in a wide variety

in

Marshall describes the vocal character-

is

three differ

high-altitude coniferous forests are inhabited by flam-

conifers

differ

races.

trill

only six

of

trill

species.

differ-

which falls pleasantly


highly distinctive. Otus trichopsis,

voice to an extended,

on the ear and

three

the

quite

is

through

through

than

characteristics

coloration.

difference

classified

races

Western

whinnying sound, whereas he says the Screech Owls

All three of these species are essentially gray birds

cases,

from those of the

Eastern

istic

Flammulated Screech Owl.

many

into

reclassification

the fact that the voices of the

is

classi-

in

distinct species

of the

and

Genus Otus.
There are presently three Otus species recognized in
North America north of Mexico. Most abundant, of
the Screech Owls. But
course, are the Otus asio races
there is also Otus trichopsis, the present Whiskered
Owl, which was for so long referred to as the Spotted
Screech Owl; as well as Otus flammeolus, now known
as the Flammulated Owl, which was previously called
the

two

One

time they are not.

this

prime considerations for possible

to be the best.

not to say that the extensive work of such

is

At

rate species.*

Joe
the

so distinct in

their differences that they should be revised into sepa-

Screech

* Because of the importance of his findings in regard to


Screech Owls in the matters of voice, coloration, geographic
variation, and taxonomy, the authors highly recommend Joe
T. Marshall's monograph for the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (Number I, 1967), entitled: Parallel Variation
in North and Middle American Screech-owls.

Owl

97

Eastern Screech Owls

Voice, a long, quavering single

AVERAGE WEIGHTS OF THE SCREECH OWLS


(Otus asio)

trill.

Western Screech Owls

Voice, a shorter, bouncy double


trill.

Eastern Screech Owls

'Number

Increased rufous coloration gen-

and a

erally

Arid Region Screech Owls

kennicottii (16)

235.6

8.3

O.

a.

macfarlanei (11)

227.4

8.0

Decreased rufous coloration and

O.

a.

swenki (6)

225.6

7.9

no red-phase

O.

a.

brewsteri

222.5

7-8

O.

a.

maxwelliae (12)

219.7

7.7

O.

a.

quercinus

(5)

216.3

7.6

O.

a.

bendirei

(10)

215.5

7-5

O.

a.

naevius

(55)

205.5

7- 2

O.

a.

inyoensis

(5)

204.1

7.1

O.

a.

hasbroucki (7)

199.3

7.0

O.

a.

suttoni

19 1.2

6.7

O.

a.

asio

185.7

6.5

18 1.7

6.4

bird.

more

coloration

subtle

Darker, richer coloration and


markings.

Thus, for the purposes of

(14)

(2)

(20)

book, the authors pre-

O.

a.

mccallii

be guided in Otus asio nomenclature by the

O.

a.

aikeni

eighteen races with the strongest and most definitive

O.

a.

floridanus

the

O.

a.

cineraceus

most recent (1957) A.O.U. Check-list by the American

O.

a.

O.

a.

yumanensis (3)
gilmani (2)

fer

to

included

as

traits,

Ornithological

and valid

(with

Union

this

but

two exceptions)

Committee

Check-list

in

as distinct

many

180.3

6.3

(17)

167.4

5-9

(5)

166.1

5.8

164.7

5.8

58-5

5-6

of the characteristics of the Screech

Owls are species-wide and it would be pointless to


reiterate these same characteristics for each of the
eighteen

(2)

(12)

subspecies.

Naturally,

included

subspecies

them most completely

Therefore,

here.

EASTERN SCREECH OWL

ex-

to

{COLOR PLATE XV)

major
characteristics will be discussed under the heading of
the most familiar subspecies, Otus asio naevius
the
Eastern Screech Owl. Other subspecies will be described in detail only insofar as they differ from Otus

press

following

Ounces

a.

Paler,

Screech Owls

parentheses

O.

and markings.

Humid Region

in

Grams

Subspecies

distinct red-phase

bird.

Western Screech Owls

weighed

specimens

of

lames)

yet

succinctly,

all

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

asio naevius.

Otus
Strix

AVERAGE WINGSPANS OF THE SCREECH OWLS


(Otus asio)

(Number

specimens measured in parentheses

of

NAME AND

following

(Gmelin). Original description:

naevius

Volume

1,

Part 1, 1788, page 289; based on the Mottled Owl of


Pennant, Arctic Zoology, Volume 2, 1785, page 231;
based on a specimen from Noveboraco, New York.

Former

names)

asio

naevia Gmelin, Systematica Natura,

names: Scops

scientific

asio,

Megascops

asio,

Strix asio, Strix naevia.

Millimeters

Subspecies

g8

O.

a.

kennicottii

O.

a.

brewsteri

O.

a.

O.

a.

macfarlanei (24)
swenki (11)

O.

a.

quercinus

O.

a.

bendirei

O.

a.

(16)
(16)

(9)

(19)

O.

a.

maxwelliae (15)
yumanensis (6)

O.

a.

naevius

O.

a.

cineraceus

O.

a.

inyoensis

O.

a.

O.
O.

O.

(87)

601.

Inches
23.7

599-8

23.6

5857

23.1

574-3

22.6

573.

572.8

22.6

558.8

22.0

554

21.8

than the Screech

551.3

21.7

Eastern Screech

Among

1.2

21.7

5387

21.2

hasbroucki (9)

536-5

a.

aikeni

533-4

21.0

a.

asio

53

1.9

21.0

a.

mccallii

53

20.9

(12)
(9)

(15)

(28)
(5)

55

.4

a.

floridanus

59-7

20.1

O.

a.

gilmani (4)

486.1

19.2

O.

a.

suttoni

480.7

18.9

(4)

No

other North American owl has more

common

names, regional names, and very localized nicknames

Owl (Otus asio) in general and the


Owl (Otus asio naevius) in particular.

the most frequently used are these:

demon owl

.1

O.

(21)

OTHER NAMES

22.6

Since

its

call

in

a darkening woods

has a somewhat unearthly or supernatural quality affecting the superstitious.

dusk owl

For the time of day when

it

is

most

often seen.

ghost owl

For

its

silent,

wraithlike flight through

the dusky woods, so expertly avoiding collision with in-

Screech

Owl

tertwined branches that

owl

gray

appears to go through them.

it

After the coloration of the gray-phase

French-Canadian name mean-

le petit-duc de l'est

"The Little Duke of the East," (as opposed to "The


Grand Duke of the East," as applied to the Great
Horned Owl [Bubo virginianus uirginianus])
little dukelet Transliteration^ of the FrenchCanadian terminology.
little-eared owl As a contrast to the Long-eared
ing

Owl

wilsonianus)

(-4.no otus

horned owl

little

it

Habits

which can be raised


almost

contrast, because of

miniature,

in

After the prey

owl

it

gives of hav-

name which

most favors.

it

is

actually

Rank

over-all

in

owl

From

quality

more ap-

far

red-phase

the

of

Old World

the

scientific

nomen-

clature.

scritch owl Dialectal pronunciation of "Screech


Owl."
shivering owl For three reasons: i, because of
the shivering tonal quality of

cause "shivers"

ability to

size

among

the

dis-

"eared"

disks,

and lores are very well defined. This


the most amusing of our owls to observe

is

eighteen

super-

one of
species:

Next to the Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus ac adiwhich has no ear tufts, the Screech Owl is the

call; 2,

its

among

smallest of the Eastern owls.

bird.

scops

are a very
smallest

ciliaries,

when perched,

because of

superstitious

its

people

because young nestling Screech Owls are subject to

severe attacks of shivering.

owl For a combination of the reasons it


Demon Owl and Ghost Owl.
squinch owl For its habit of squinching its eyes
spirit

is

at

It

is

readily identifiable

change its appeartimes. In normal perching posture,

despite

ance considerably

its

ability to

and well-fluffed, with the plumand with the ear tufts usually raised
or half-raised. If there is cause for apprehension, however (though sometimes for no apparent reason), the
owl can elongate its perched body until it has stretched
upward nearly half again its normal perched height,
with the usual bulkiness of the body narrowing proportionately to a startling thinness. At such times the
plumage is held tightly against the body and, with
ear tufts erect, the bird becomes remarkably well camouflaged as a stub of branch an aspect heightened
by eyes squinted to mere slits on a slightly diagonal
this

coloration

the

the

owl) east of the Rocky Mountains. Facial

eus)

For the quavering tonal

After

is

SHAPE AT REST

propriate than "screech" owl.

red

It

its

ing a sort of mottled and speckled plumage.

call

wide-set ear tufts.

Its

Great

the

to

owl For its diminutive size.


mottled owl After the impression

its

is.

to a wholly erect position or laid

characteristic.

little

quavering owl

it

Characteristics.)

gives the impression

against the head at will,

flat

tinguishing

Horned Owl.

mouse owl

and

somehow

Twelfth.

As a

resemblance

superficial

3,

small,

of being a larger bird than

bird.

of

General

(See

audacity.

Though indeed

owl

is

short, thick,

age hiding the

feet

plane.

called

mere

to

slits.

trilling

owl

After the nature of

whistling owl

SHAPE IN FLIGHT

its call.

Inaccurately, after the nature of

its

The wings appear oddly stubby when opened, even

call.

though they are long for the

size of the bird.

probably due to their unusual broadness. In

This

is

flight

it

head tucked
and broad wings, the

exhibits a decided batlike quality; with the

no discernible neck, short

in,

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

tail,

flying bird has a roughly triangular shape.

Owl

All the Screech

and

in their habits

more

strictly

subspecies are reasonably alike

characteristics.

They

are one of the

only on rare occasions will be abroad in daylight,


less

much

hunt in the daytime, even though their vision

quite

adaptable to the light of day.

Vision.)

It

is

and

Eyes

(See

is

merely an ingrained characteristic of the

bird to remain at roost until after the setting of the


sun, with almost

all

hunting done during the

first

four

has been said that

the Great

if

"feathered tiger," then the Screech


ered

wildcat."

cause, despite

Otus

This
its

is

small

Horned Owl

Owl

reasonable

size,

it

is

is

the

the "feath-

comparison be-

has great courage and

asio naevius has, as

do most of the Otus

asio

and steady wingbeat of about


five strokes per second. It rarely glides for more than a
few seconds at a time and very seldom hovers. The
normally steady wingbeat can become quite erratic
subspecies, a fairly rapid

when

hours of night.
It

FLIGHT PATTERN

nocturnal of North American owls and

the owl

flies

uncanny

ability,

When

is

it

through heavy

hunting insects on the wing, as

quently does, especially around

mercury-vapor

Eastern Screech

Owl

forest cover

and with

dodges through interlaced branches.

lights

which

the

attract

it

so fre-

glow of isolated

numerous

insects,

99

BEAK LENGTH

becomes very jerky but extremely maneuverand in masterful fashion it plucks moths, flying
beetles, and other insects out of mid-air.
Measurements have been based on 87 measured birds
38 males and 49 males.
its

flight

able,

Species average: 15.3

mm.

0.6'
(

Male
Average

15.2

Minimum
Maximum

14.0

Rank

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

16.6

Female
(0.6")

15.4

(0.6")

14.9

(0.7")

18.8

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.6")
(0.6")
(0.7")

beak length among the eighteen species: Tenth.

WEIGHT
Species average: 204.1 gr. (7.1 oz.)

Male
1998

gr.

(7.0 oz.)

208.3 g r

(7-3

oz.)

Minimum
Maximum

166.0 gr.

(5.8 oz.)

174-5 g r

(6-

oz.)

212.5 gr.

(7.4 oz.)

Rank

in

The

mm.

209.2

Minimum
Maximum

176.3

Rank

233.2

in total

Female

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

(8.2")

233.0

(7.0")

195-2

mm.
mm.

7.7")

(9.2")

264.4

mm

I0 4")

among

9.2")

EYES AND VISION

the eighteen species: Twelfth.

Markedly convex

Owl

mm.

Average

539-5

Minimum
Maximum

479-7

Rank

in

568.5

mm.
mm.
mm.

(21.3")

563.0

(18.9")

499.8
617.2

(22.4")

Screech

are quite large

seemingly impossible

(21.7").

Male

in shape, the eyes of the

and penetrating. They are set quite


firmly in their sockets, allowing for virtually no rolling
of the eyeballs themselves. As a result, the bird often
tilts
its
head into highly ludicrous and sometimes

WINGSPAN
Species average: 551.3

The

and well curved, though not


quite as markedly curved as in some species. The tips of
the talons are extremely sharp and the leg musculature
is very powerful for driving the talons deep into prey.
This owl is a very strong-footed species. It normally
perches with two toes forward, two backward.

(8.7").

Male
Average

are short and partially feathered. Feet and

talons are a slaty black

TOTAL LENGTH
Species average: 221.1

tarsi

talons are of average size for the size of the bird.

222.4 g r (7-8 oz.)


the eighteen species: Twelfth.

among

weight

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,

Female

Average

positions.

The

irides are a bright

Female

yellow and vision

mm.
mm.
mm.

(22.2")

late twilight,

(19.7")

keen during the day. The pupils very swiftly adjust to

(24.3")

existing light conditions, contracting to

wingspan among the eighteen species: Eleventh.

is

extremely keen, especially during

but also very good at night and nearly as

on the brightest days,

mere pinpoints
and expanding on the darkest

nights until only a circular sliver of the brilliant lemon-

yellow

man

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


(6.5").

Male
Average

163.8

Minimum
Maximum

"54-9

Rank

in

174-0

mm.
mm.
mm.

166.4

(6.1")

156.2

(6.9")

177-8

mm

darkness,

can be thrown into confusion and

it

if,

while the pupils are widely expanded

a bright light suddenly strikes the eyes.

Sometimes when this occurs, the bird will deliberately


swivel its head around 180 and wait for a moment for

Female
(6.5")
;6. 5 ")

can be detected. Like nearly any creature

nearly blinded
in

mm.

Species average: 165.1

iris

included

(6.6")

mm.
mm.

its

(6.2")

vision to readjust before taking flight.

ears

(7.0")

work

The

eyes

and

well together for hunting.

wing length among the eighteen species: Twelfth.

RECONSTRUCTED EASTERN SCREECH OWI.


In the

TAIL LENGTH

autumn

of 1949, the authors

tion trip near VVooddale, Illinois,

were on a

when

field

observa-

they found the nearly

complete skeletal remains of an Eastern Screech Owl. The


Species average: 84.7

mm.

Male
Average

80.6

Minimum
Maximum

75.1

Rank

86.1

in tail

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

(3.2")

88.8

(3.0")

80.5

(34")

among

authors positioned the bones on a bare,

(3.3").

95.5

oak stump as

nearly

mm.
mm.
mm.

(3.5")

and the

(3.2")

thoroughly devoured by ants even to the point where the

(3.8")

between bones was missing and virtually all the bones


were separated. A few bones were missing and some were
slightly gnawed-upon, evidently the work of mice.
ture

the eighteen species: Elev-

enth.

100

flat

Female

Screech

Owl

correctly
artist

as

made

possible,

under the existing conditions,

few sketches. The carcass had been


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EARS AND HEARING

Two
and

The

ear cavities of the Otus asio subspecies are sym-

metrical in size and placement on the skull. Hearing

superb and a

vital factor in

accuracy the

location

strictly

nocturnal

Screech

Owl

Because

prey.

of

auditory

the

habits,

of

more

its

sense

the

of

probably very close to being on a par

is

Owl (Tyto

with the same sense in the Barn

alba pratin-

and Great Horned Owl [Bubo virginianus

cola)

ginianus)

The

ear cavities are of moderate

out-of-nest offspring are

vir-

size.

still

when

Barred

Owl

of calls that the

[Strix varia varia)

the Eastern Screech

Owl

the

being tended.

Not having quite the range

is

pinpointing with extreme

of these are at the onset of the breeding season


for a period following the nesting season

is

Northern

capable of rendering,

nevertheless has an impressive

its repertoire. The comwhich has sometimes been


described as a "wet whistling" sort of sound. Well
within range of human hearing, it begins low and rises
quickly in pitch and quaver, holds at this level for three
to five seconds, then slides back down toward the starting point. The quaver becomes so pronounced at the

variety of vocal utterances in

monest

call

is

the

muted

trill

end that the notes become practically individualized. It


is
a pensive, pleasantly mournful sound and easily

The

identified.

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

it

The

may

ear tufts are wide apart and form a distinct

erect than laid flat

They

when

more often held

are

the bird

is

perched, though

in flight

they are held rather close to the head.

plumage

is

normally of a fluffed and very

The

appear-

soft

it can become tight to the body contour


when the owl elongates itself for protective concealment.
The softness of the plumage and the distinct fluting of

ance, though

the flight feathers permit remarkably soundless flight.

There
about

plumage beginning
finished by no later than

a complete molt of

is

late July.

This molt

is

is

sense of melancholy or sweet weirdness

more

the effect of the muted, wavering

tone than to the note structure of the

MOLT
characteristic of the bird.

imparts

all

be varied in several ways

call.

This sound

sometimes

beginning

and ending on a higher or lower scale than the call


that preceded it, and occasionally with barely discernible quaver. Sometimes the pitch will remain constant
throughout the call; at other times it may rise two or
three notes before falling at the end.

may

vary by as

Another

common

much

utterances,

most often given by


of the

common

lower than the

final

notes

issued perhaps once for each ten of the

call,

call

The

as three or four tonal levels.

cry.

is

but occasionally on the heels

itself

It

ordinarily four or five tones

is

common

a soft, wheezing ho-ho-ho,

cry (though on rare occasions

and so muted that it is often lost to human


hearing at any appreciable distance. This call, which is
now and then heard during the daytime, tends to remain on the same note, although occasionally the last

higher)

mid-November.

may be just a trifle higher in pitch.


The mating call is generally heard just

note

in very early spring. It

VOICE
A

by labeling

it

stretch of the

with such a name, for

its

call

by no

is

imagination a screech. Rather,

it

is

charming sound, imbued with a pleasantly poign-

quite

ant and plaintive quality.

which

is

It

is

a mellow,

muted

Western

much

trill

quavering and lugubrious and which descends

rapidly in tonal quality toward the end of the

the

Owl

great injustice has been done to the Screech

less

races

of

Otus

asio,

however,

call.

there

In
is

at

twilight

a soft trilling with extraordi-

is

nary ventriloquial delivery. One may be actually watching the bird doing the calling and yet still be almost
convinced that the sound is coming from another owl

one side or the other. It lasts


for about three seconds and tends to end with a faint
upward inflection. (See Courtship and Mating.) The

some distance away and

call

may be

given in a

to

number

consists of a succession of the

of ways, but usually

three-second quavering

notes, often beginning slowly but increasing in speed of

of a tendency for the call to descend toward

Even though there may, in the viewpoint of


some listeners/ be something of an eerie quality to the
call of the Eastern Screech Owl, its voice remains one
of the most delightful of North American bird calls. The
the end.

cry of a heron or gull, rail

sidered

a screech,

or limpkin might well be con-

but certainly not the

call

of

the

xxv

Otus asio kennicottii (Elliot). Male. Northwestern corner of


Ferry County, Washington, January 20, 1971. A.O.U.

xxvi

While older Screech Owls are normally

silent

when

are times of the year

02

when

they become quite vocal.

Screech

Num-

ber 373-D

Screech Owl.
hunting, feeding, and engaged in other activities, there

kennicott's screech owl

macfarlane's screech owi

Otus asio macfarlanei (Brewster). Male. Mouth of Soldier


Creek, Priest Lake, Idaho. October 19, 193 1. A.O.U. Number

373-H

Owl

%J? .?**

whole blends

delivery until the

With extreme

rarity

there

another

is

which

call

cry itself
softly

is

not

known why

this call

is

given, but the

a peculiar sirenlike whistling which begins

is

and, without the usual quavering,

a rather

rises to

piercing cry.

The

calls

heard

in late

summer and autumn

are most

presumably given so the birds can


keep track of one another and remain comparatively
close as a family unit while they range in search of food.
often family

adults.

the parent birds. It has the sound of

R-R-R, rolling slightly at the end.


young bird moves from one perch

KEEEERR-R-

It

continues as the

to

another until

The

first

that of a

the

occurs almost as soon as the baby bird

has emerged from


like

shell

its

chick

little

querulous peeping

lost

much

from the mother hen,

though not cjuite as loud. This is a demand for shelter


and food, since it ceases when the hatchling is fed and
then warmly brooded by the mother owl. Such cries are
heard only during the

weeks of

bird's first three

Just about the time that that

calls,

At such times another fairly uncommon Screech Owl


a rather sharp, demanding cry issued by
is heard
one of the fledglings to signal its own whereabouts to
cry

the nestlings are concerned, there are four vo-

utterances which differ from those issued by

cal

might, at the strain of the imagination, be considered a


screech. It

Where

as a rapid trilling that

long as ten seconds.

las:s as

call

is

life.

ending, another

begins; a peculiar mouselike squeaking which

is

issued

baby bird scrambles about among the other


nestlings in an effort to find the warmest spot. The
the

as

third nestling cry

enough

in tone

is

a sort of vibrant chatter, friendly

but evidently uttered to attract parental

attention. It has been observed that

if

the baby owl does

not give this cry, the parent returning with food ignores
it

and

parents return.

is

the fourth cry, which

Most often the Eastern Screech Owl restricts its calling to the period between sunset and an hour after full

given by the baby birds at night as long as they are

darkness has fallen. Occasionally


after that until

mally

On

it

may

call

around midnight. After that

its

sparingly
it

feeds the baby that chatters. Closely associated


is

a strange

humming sound

hungry. This ceases, along with the chattering,


the nestling

is

fed.

nor-

is

silent.

a seasonal basis, calling

is

most pronounced dur-

and

ing the initial stages of courtship in early spring

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

during the family hunting period very late in summer.

In early summer and midsummer there is much less


calling, and in late autumn and winter the birds are

mainly

Although the Eastern Screech Owl

silent.

is

dichromatic,

Otus asio naevius does not normally make any vocal


sound while flying, but occasionally an owl being chased
by songbirds will utter an irritated little trilling cry.

with two sharply defined color phases, these are

Too, juvenile flying birds will utter location calls as they


fly in order to keep in touch with one another and the

female

parent birds.

There are two other

characteristic sounds

made by

the Screech Owl, though they are not actually vocal


callings.

The

first

is

way a

The second

sound,

is

made by

nestlings as well as adults,

given in conjunction with the snapping of the

beak and generally

Otus

asio

signifies anger.

is

about 3 per cent longer than the male's.

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


Strangely, since this

10,

1971.

Not

included in the 1957 A.O.U. Check-list

TEXAS SCREECH OWL

Otus asio mccallii (Cassin). Male.

Two

miles northwest of

Cameron County, Texas, February

A.O.U. Number 373-B

is

one of the most

easily located

North America, little research


of a comprehensive nature has been done regarding

and observable of owls

in

is

known

Some

incidence of canni-

to occur, especially in larger nestings

where the youngest bird is too small to compete successfully with its older and often much larger siblings.

maxwelliae (Ridgway). Female. Turkey Creek near

Denver, Jefferson County, Colorado, November

Brownsville,

a bit

mortality rates or longevity.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCREECH OWL

XXVIII

is

somewhat higher in pitch than his. On the average, the


females of all Otus asio subspecies average about 15 per
cent heavier than the males, and their individual wing

balism

XXVn

no

the sharp snapping of the beak,

a sort of hissing without any real tonal quality. Often

this

in

Male and female birds occur


both the red phase and gray phase. The
larger than the male and her voice is

sexual difference.

haphazardly in

which most other owl species also make. This brittle,


clicking sound can be heard at surprising distances and
is usually made when the owl is irked or threatened. It
is given as a warning to an intruder to keep his distance.

is

when

9,

1910.

The

incidence of cannibalism

is

not frequent, however,

and cannot be considered a truly pertinent mortality


factor. Diseases and parasites also cause a certain
amount of death among the birds (see Enemies and
Defenses) but little is known about such mortality on a
large scale. On at least two occasions captive Eastern
Screech Owls have lived for over twenty years.

Eastern Screech

Owl

103

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

chin in generally dusky white tinged with reddish buff

and narrowly barred from


nape

Markedly dichromatic, Otus asio naevius has two discolor phases


gray and red. The latter color
phase is the result of a dominant autosomal gene. The
term "phase" is actually poor usage, even though commonly the accepted term, since it suggests a transitional

tinct

coloration,

when

in actuality the

genetically permanent.

On

so-called

facial

rim to facial rim with

The upper

mottled streakings of dark gray or black.

"phase"

is

rare occasions an intermedi-

is

band

crossed by a vague

of lighter buff-colored

spots or irregular dusky whiteness, while the lower

occasionally

which

is

of

similar

and these

unmarked

dull

white are on the

spots are often compressed or elon-

The

gated by the stance of the perched bird.


quite

nape

coloration

mostly concealed by overlying plumage. Small

triangular spots of
throat

band

another

has

boldly cross-hatched

with

irregular

breast

is

and

stripes

ate color phase will also occur

unconnected bars of dark gray or black over dull gray

not quite red, and yet

The coloration of the back is the same as on the


crown and nape, but with bolder black markings along
the shafts and heavier dark gray blotchings. The secondaries are streaked with a few narrow bands of dull

which is not quite gray,


with some of the coloration and

markings of both. This

When

phase.

it

evidently a rather recessive

is

does occur, the markings tend to favor

those of the gray-phase bird, but in coloration

has

it

more of the red-phase sienna orange on back and head


and to a somewhat lesser degree on facial disks and unThere was one

relatively well-reported case

gray-phase Eastern Screech

Owl was

where a

captured, caged,

and fed a strict diet of beef liver. It is reported that


owl's plumage subsequently changed from gray to
doubtful but, even

is

if

true,

it

is

this

red.

the only such

on record and cannot be accepted as conclusive


evidence that controlled diet can induce color change.
Dichromatism is a phenomenon for which no really
satisfactory scientific explanation has thus far been offered. It is important to note that in this dichromatism
case

there

not only a change of coloration, but also a

is

change in the pattern of markings.


Gray-phase Coloration and Markings

and

is

Between the

generally a brownish gray with small blotches

streaks of black or dark slate gray.

Each feather has

either a series of small dark gray or black spots along

same color simihead are colored nearly


the same, but include some narrow dusky-white barrings. Facial disks are dusky white with mottlings or
the shaft or an irregular streak of the

The

larly placed.

sides of the

brown in the supraorbital areas. The ear


tufts are colored and marked on the outer sides like the
head and nape, but the inner sides are coarsely mottled
streaks of dark

with grayish white or pale buffy brown.

ways has a

faint greenish cast but

may

The beak

al-

range from a

pale general coloration of dusky, slaty, bluish green to


dull

yellow

grayish

green.

though occasionally with


irides are

mottlings are so broken by the general coloration that

The
a

cere

distinct

is

dull

gray,

The

yellowness.

always a brilliant lemon yellow surrounding the

The webs

of the outer-

most middle coverts and greater coverts have a large


pale buff or gray spot on or near the tip. The outer

webs of the inner primaries each have squarish spots of


reddish buff, and these become larger and paler on the
four largest

quills.

The underwings are


casional random dark

a general grayish buff with oc-

gray streakings.

light to dull grayish white,

The

are

sides

with cross-hatching increas-

ing toward the median

line. Undertail coverts are an


unblemished buffy gray, usually hidden when the bird
is

perched. Sporadically there will be some spottings or

light barrings of black

ear tufts on the crown, as well as on the nape, coloration

grayish buff, each enclosing a dusky-gray bar, but the

the bands are often indistinct.

derpays.

This

white.

The

tail coverts.

belly

and
is

light

brown on

these under-

buffy white, broken by bold but

narrow black bars and with the center feathershaft streaks of the same, these often expanding into

irregular

conspicuous

rusty-edged

spots

at

the

On

sides.

the

same black bar tend to frame the


buffy-brown area. Plumage on the upper parts of the
legs is light rusty buff, fading into dull white on rear
and lower tarsi. The thighs are usually unmarked, but
flanks, pairs of the

the outer leg plumes are always heavily barred with

dark brown on the upper portion and sometimes on the

and

lower. Scales on the unfeathered portions of legs


feet are a
jet

dusky yellowish gray. Talons are sometimes

black or slaty black for their entire length, but more

often range from dusky tan or yellowish gray at the

base to dusky dark gray at the

tips.

Red-phase Coloration and Markings


phase, which

is

In this color

also referred to as the rufescent phase,

the general pattern of barrings and streakings

is

basi-

deep black pupil. The eyelids are sparsely feathered in


jet black, often with the lighter gray flesh color showing

cally similar to that of the gray-phase bird except that

through. There are narrow dusky-white barrings in the

bright rust to chestnut red in the rufescent phase,

and suborbital areas, and the


gray white and bristly, with each feather

the underparts are

superciliaries

black-shafted.

brown

in a

The

narrow

facial
line

circling the facial disk to

104

rim

is

black

distinctly

or very

from behind each ear

are

lores

dark

tuft,

each side of the throat.

en-

brown

the gray or

tend to be

less

phase bird.

of the gray-phase bird

without black.

The

is

streakings

broad and more linear than

Facial

disks

are

usually

replaced by

and
all

in the gray-

plain

rufous of

varying shades, while lores and superciliaries are buffy

The

white.

Screech

Owl

The markings

of

the

underparts in

the

red-

phase bird are

less intricate in

and the

cross-hatching,

blackish to dull-gray barring of the gray-phase bird

is

here replaced by cinnamon-rufous spottings.

JUVENILE
Gray Phase
overcast

tail are the same as in


brown with deep grayish

Wings and

The upperparts

are

and are broadly but rather

with grayish buff.


dull white.

Many

indistinctly barred

of the feathers are tipped with

The underparts

are barred with dusky buff

gray over a dull-white ground color. At

this

age there

is

an absence of streakings on both upperparts and under-

During the first winter the juvenile birds of both


color phases have a more mottled appearance than the
parts.

adults.

Red Phase

and pulled the small yellow bird through


and swallowed it whole. In another case of unusual boldness on the part of an Eastern Screech Owl,
the artist of this volume had a difficult time. At his
suburban Chicago home he had been keeping a number of cocoons of Telea polyphenols and Sarnia cecropia moths in a screened box on his window ledge.
When these large silk moths began to emerge one evening, he opened the lid and reached in to lift them out
canary's cage,
the bars

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

adults.

Similar to the gray-phase juvenal except

A gray-phase Eastern Screech Owl


down and snatched one out of his
hand and sped off with it. In a moment a second owl

gently one by one.

suddenly zoomed

tion.

one

this

in rufescent

to get inside.

Strangely, in the face of


its

This and other Otus asio sub-

even another hawk or owl, or other

larger than itself if motivated by hunger,


brood protection, or self-defense. The Eastern Screech

creature

Owl

has been

known

to attack

erably larger Long-eared

Owl

and drive

all this,

the Eastern Screech

counterpart subspecies can be remarkably

The Screech Owl


placid

in fact,

is,

disposition

by an intruder

it

more noted

than for

may snap

its

its

for

its

ferocity.

If

beak in a most

menacing manner, but will rarely follow through with


an actual attack. Screech Owls are often kept as pets
and they make very good ones, tending to be affec-

species are audacious in the extreme. It will not hesitate to attack a bird,

To

thing.

it

startled

CHARACTERISTICS
naevius

same

the ledge, bring

gentle.

asio

the

specimens to the birds,

became necessary to unscrew the box from


it inside and close the window to get
the rest of the emerged moths out safely. Even then one
of the owls very nearly broke the window in its attempt
antly,

ordinarily

Otus

did

his

both of which had returned and were circling expect-

Owl and

GENERAL HABITS AND

phase

keep from losing more of

browns are replaced by rufescent colora-

that the gray

entered the front room, flew directly to a

residence,

off the consid-

(Asio otus wilsonianus)

tionate

and companionable. They seem to delight in


human head or shoulder and very

riding about on a

much

enjoy having their

own heads

scratched or their

plumage gently stroked from head to tail. Often at


such times the owl will gravely and slowly wink first one
eye and then the other, as if sharing some secret with

human companion.

its
,

has attacked and killed birds as large as the

Despite the squalid condition of their nests as a rule,

and piThere are many cases on record where human


beings have been attacked by this little owl, usually in
defense of its young. The renowned ornithologist-artist
Alexander Sprunt, Jr., in a lifetime of observation of
and contact with birds of all kinds, encountered only
one that ever drew blood from him. and this was an angry Eastern Screech Owl that badly gouged his ear with
its talons when he approached too near its babies.
Such savagery is not reserved for other creatures or
humans. If two Screech Owls are caged together with

Screech Owls are clean in their habits, often preening

and

it

ruffed grouse, barnyard hens, domestic ducks,

geons.

insufficient

food provided, there

the likelihood that,

is

even though they be mates, one will ultimately attack


the other,

kill

it,

and

eat

it.

Such cannibalism cannot,

however, be considered a normal

Along with
very often

its

incredibly

Arthur Cleveland Bent


ican Birds of Prey,
Jersey, a Screech

audacious.

In

some years ago

in

is

cited by
North Amer-

case

in Life Histories of

Owl came down

Owl

make frequent

They

are

known

use of birdbaths and, in the days of

the old rainbarrel under the downspout, tragedies some-

when Screech Owls attempting

times resulted

them would instead get


flight and thereupon drown
in

It

comes

as

in the

live in

On more

reasonable

bathe
for

deep water.

something of a surprise

owls will often

to

plumage too wet

their

to learn that these

harmony with unusual

an Eastern
compartment in
a purple martin house. The martins continue to come
and go and even raise their own families in the comneighbors.

Screech

Owl

than

has selected for

one occasion
its

nest a

partments right next door without any evident problems.

trait of the species.

savagery, the Eastern Screech

themselves and regularly taking baths.


to

Mendham, New

the chimney of a

The instinct for protection of her young is pronounced in Otus asio naevius. In one case where a female's mate and eggs were destroyed, she simply moved
farther up the tree to a hollow being used by flickers as
a nest. Inside were four baby flickers not long out of

Eastern Screech

Owl

'5

the eggs. The owl transferred her affections to them and


brooded them for five consecutive days. She made no
objection and did not interfere when the flickers came

young, simply moving back out of the way

to feed their

hollow until the feeding was finished, then gently

in the

young birds again. When at last she left


the nest she was gone for only a short while before returning with a small dead bird in her beak. She deposited it in the nest beside the baby flickers and then
flew away and did not return.

a long-parked boxcar. As long as there are, within


range, hollows in which to nest

The

fact

that

the

owl's

and

it

eyeballs

are

must turn

its

rather

see in different directions has given rise to a


superstition. It

firmly

whole head

to

widespread

believed that this and other owl spe-

is

can turn their heads around in a complete circle if


necessary to watch an observer circling around below.
cies

The

erroneous belief

that

is

if

the person continues to

an abundant

roost,

supply of small prey to catch, and a reasonable lack of


harassment by humans, the conditions are good for the
Eastern Screech Owl.

Where

settling over the

fixed in their sockets

and

its

is concerned,
more often than not
naevius prefers a natural hollow in a large

roosting

Otus

asio

tree.

Abandoned

flicker holes

rank high as a second

choice. If such sites are unavailable, however,

it can be
content in a hollow behind the loose siding of some

farm building. Nevertheless, trees are definitely favored


and it makes little real difference what kind of a tree it
apples, oaks, elms, maples, pines, sycamores, willows,

is;

and many others provide

which

cavities

this

owl con-

siders to be ideal.

During the daylight hours, the Eastern Screech Owl


is

mostly inactive within such a hollow or else well

walk around the owl, the head of the bird will continue
to circle with him until it will eventually become un-

concealed on a perch in some dense evergreen or amid

screwed and

ing in a hollow of a tree and that tree

off

fall off,

whereupon

perch. This, of course,

its

occurs

is

that

the bird will

absurd.

is

when someone does

What

Then,

actually

circle

the head has turned an incredible

until

dead

around below,
remain locked on the intruder

the gaze of the owl will

circle.

fall

in the barest blink of

an

280

eye, the

of

the

head

will

the heavy foliage of a

an owl is roosttapped with a


stick, chances are good that the owl will poke its head
out of the hole and look downward toward the disturbance. It will watch intently for a minute or so and
then withdraw out of sight. Only rarely will it take wing
from such a hollow. Not uncommonly it will sit inside
the hollow with
for hours

was before but with the head having

turned in the other direction. This action

is

performed that

the observer

it is

easily missed,

does continue circling,


has followed

to

so, if

so swiftly

indeed appears that the head

completely around

without pause.

The

head into what


be impossible angles adds greatly to its charm.

ability of the

seem

it

and

owl

to swivel or

cock

its

tree. If

is

its head filling the opening, watching


what is going on outside. Even bright sunlight
falling on its face does not seem to bother it as it
watches the passage of small birds, squirrels, and other
creatures with great care, often turning its head or
sticking it out farther to watch their progress.
If the roost happens to be amid foliage rather than

snap back in the other direction, returning to about the

same spot where

it

hardwood

in a tree hollow, the

trees

Eastern Screech

Owl

prefers oak

during the summer and conifers during the winter,

almost invariably sitting very close to the trunk of the


roost tree.

from

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

When

hollows are used, these are normally

10 to 20 feet in height, but they

low as 5

feet to as high as

50

feet.

may

be from as

The same

roosts are

used over and again by the individual owl throughout

The

Owl

Eastern Screech

type of terrain, especially


fields,

favors an

when

this

is

open-woodland

adjacent to grain-

meadows, and marshes. Apple orchards are a

particular favorite of this race, not only because the

older apple trees often have ideal nesting and roosting

its

range, though one owl

roosts or hollows that

ing winter

it

it

may have

five or six different

regularly uses in

normally confines

itself

summer. Durone or two

to

roosts.

On

occasion,

when

the weather

is

fair

and shows

hollows in them, but because they are also areas to

promise of continuing that way, the owl

which mice and insects are attracted.


Otus asio naevius is not at all loath to take up residence in or very near barns and outbuildings, in birdhouses where the holes are large enough, in fencerows
along country lanes, and even in the hollows of shade

which faces the sky this is usually a


off by the wind 15 feet or
more above the ground and sleep while clinging to the

trees in residential yards. It

is

quite

common

to see these

owls in the suburbs and in small towns, and not at


rare to find

them

in large cities

such as Chicago, where

they often hunt into the late twilight hours along

road tracks or in
ally

city parks.

hide by day in hollow

tracks. Occasionally

106

one

Such

trees,

dense scrub growth which


will

is

all

large tree cavity


tree that has

will roost in a

been broken

side of the cavity. Generally, though, hollows exposed


to bright sunlight or inclemencies are avoided, as are

those which are regularly used by fox squirrels.

Roosts in areas of relatively sparsely scattered trees


are favored over those located in the midst of heavier

rail-

"city" owls will usu-

water tanks, or in the

often growing near the

even take up lodging inside


Screech

Field sketch of an afterbath drying posture assumed by Kennicott's

Owl

Screech

Owl (Otus

asio kennicottii)

forest growth, primarily because the latter

is

more

the

Prowling cats form a definite hazard, especially

in

heavily frequented habitat of the Eastern Screech Owl's

circumstances where the owl has killed prey too heavy

most deadly natural enemy, the Great Horned Owl.


An odd characteristic about roosting Screech Owls

and carried to a safer perch for eating. The


becomes engrossed in tearing apart
and devouring its prey on the ground and is subsequently somewhat less attentive to its own dangers. This
is the time when cats, and other carnivores as well, may
kill it. Mink, weasels, otters, raccoons, skunks, bobcats,
and even domestic dogs can all be counted as enemies.
to be lifted

is

that at times they appear to be perched in a mesmerized


state

and can be

lifted off their

perch simply by push-

transfer their grip

upon which the feet seem to


instinctively and unconsciously. This

occurs most often

when

ing a stick under their feet,

they are in a state of torpor

while digesting a large meal.

owl

at such times

Tree-climbing carnivores in particular take a

of

toll

roosting Screech Owls.

Now

and again tree-climbing snakes will kill the owl


but far more often they are a danger to the
owl's eggs. If a Screech Owl is killed by a snake, it is
more than likely the result of the owl's own audaciousas prey,

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


Many

and do prey upon the


Eastern Screech Owl, as well as other Otus asio subspecies, but none so devastatingly and with such frequency
as the Great Horned Owl. This is in part a result of the
fact that Bubo virginianus virginianus and Otus asio
naevius have a preference for essentially the same type
of habitat and their territories overlap. The smaller size
and faster wingbeat of the Screech Owl give it a greater
maneuverability for escaping the Great Horned Owl in
flight, and it also has the opportunity of hiding in holof the larger owls can

lows that are

much

enemy
Horned Owl is

too small for the large

Yet, the attack of the Great

ter.

to en-

so

si-

and unexpectedly launched, that once


the bigger owl has located its target and moved to attack, there isn't much hope for the smaller owl.
Barred Owls (Strix varia sp.), Spotted Owls (Strix
occidentalis sp. ), Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa
nebulosa)
occasionally Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca)
Long-eared Owls (Asio otus sp.), and Shorteared Owls (Asio flammeus flammeus) will all take the
Screech Owl as prey, and sometimes even the Barn
Owl (Tyto alba pratincola) will kill and devour one.
Equally, the Eastern Screech Owl is something of an
enemy within its own race, since cannibalism can and
does occur, not only among nestlings but now and again
lent,

so swiftly

ness.

Overestimating

Owl

will

own

its

ability, the

Eastern Screech

sometimes attack a snake simply too large to

be handled well.
stricts its

prey

snake

If the

say

of the type that con-

is

a rat snake or corn snake

the ensuing struggle

manages

it

throw a

to

around the owl's head or body, death

is

and

in

or two

coil

almost sure to

follow for the owl.

Crows, blue jays, blackbirds, and numerous songbirds


must also be considered as enemies, even though their
intent is to harass rather than prey upon the owl. These
birds, upon finding the roosting owl, pester it unmercifully until it is forced to take to wing in an effort to find
solitude elsewhere. In this process of flying elsewhere as

mob

a result of an attack by a darting, shrieking

of

Owl becomes highly vulnerafrom hawks.


Parasites, though they rarely kill the owl, are certainly enemies of a sort. Most Screech Owls are subject
smaller birds, the Screech

ble to attack

to

harboring

fleas

and bird

lice

beneath their feathers,

among

adults as well. This occurs during especially bad-

weather winters when small prey becomes very


to find.

The

individual owl

than normally and

may

is

difficult

the territory of another Screech Owl, which

tionally

motivated by a

difficult

time

not

uncommon

some of the

larger hawks, but this

active

when

well hidden in

hawk does

the
its

kill

hawks have gone


roost

when

the

is

the owl has been disturbed from

its

it

prey

more the

ex-

mainly nocturnal

to roost

hawk

one of these owls,

will fall

far

is

is

is

and

itself

The
as

have been

less

than definitive.

single greatest threat to the Eastern Screech


to

it is

say very

most other owl

many

are

species,

deliberately

is

man. This
with

slain

is

Owl,

not to

guns

(al-

killed this

way) but rather

fatalities.

Because of the

its

shoulders, often running

through areas of rather heavy woodland cover, the


Eastern Screech Owl tends to perch and hunt near such
a thoroughfare.

mouse, shrew, or large insect scam-

pering across a road


in

is

an open invitation

little

quite often struck

heed

and

to

upon

in-

its

approaching vehicles

killed.

In the state of Ohio, where for


mortality counts have been

any Screech

to

the vicinity. But the owl, intent

tended prey, pays

and

is

made

many

years

bird

along highways, East-

When

ern Screech Owls are the bird species second most fre-

usually because

quently killed by vehicles, surpassed only by robins. The


majority of Screech Owl deaths occur while the bird is

is

roost

active.

and

is

seeking

another haven.

108

studies along these lines

Owl

Owl

ception than the rule, since the owl


-

it

for cannibalism to follow.

Occasionally the Eastern Screech


to

such occurs,

possible. If

owl,

itself

is

finding

is

their debilitating effect

is

openness of a highway and

territorial possessiveness, a fatal

encounter between them

upon the
making the bird less able to elude its enemies and
thus more subject to predation. Diseases do kill some, but
of these creatures

upon

enough food. With


hunger strong upon them, and one of the birds addihaving

The danger

internal parasites as well.

though a certain number are


that they become highway

forced to range farther

inadvertently encroach

and a variety of

in flight

Screech

Owl

rather than while on the

pavement with

its

Often the owl

prey.

flies

into the side of the vehicle or

collides with the windshield; evidently this

has been

by the bright

blinded

partially

because

is

it

and

lights

attempts to dart across the road the instant the head-

Time

lights pass.
too,

number

est

comes
is

makes a

difference,

The

concerned.

is

great-

Owl casualties on the road occur


when prey in field and forest bewhatever pertinence it may have,

of Screech

and winter,
And, for

in late fall

it

of year obviously

where highway mortality

scarce.

Ohio highway casualty

interesting to note that in

counts, 75 per cent of

Eastern Screech Owls killed

all

by vehicles were gray-phase birds.

Where

defense

is

animal

concerned, the Eastern Screech

More than one

has

an eye

lost

Owl

intruder

human

in the process,

as well

as

and even more

have backed away with painfully punctured nose, lip,


or ear. Otus asio naevius prefers, however, not to have
to fight for its life,

and

camouflage

ability to

normal

fluffed

In an instant
of branch.

it

enemy

made

illusion,

roost or nest

cate the presence of prey.

When

attacks, the

it

little

owl does so swiftly and un-

upon noting the apfrom

itself closely

pose.

resemble a stub
of

its

prey with outstretched

its

talons before the animal realizes the danger

The

is

present.

made, the owl's feet open


widely and as they touch flesh the talons snap downward and inward, driving deeply with the full power of
instant before contact

is

the leg muscles behind them.


If the

prey

is

small enough,

it

will either

be quickly

swallowed whole on the spot or carried elsewhere

beak

bird's

in the

swallowed whole or torn apart for

to be

the feeding of young birds. If the prey

is

too large for

swallowing (and otus asio naevius can swallow aston-

and somewhat slouchy perching

has

its

will quickly straighten

Even the pattern and coloration

age lend to the

in

lies

in the first place.

bird particularly,

proach of possible danger,


its

greatest defense

incredibly well in order to

itself

escape detection from an

The gray-phase

its

its

erringly, diving silently onto

can be a savage opponent, utilizing its hooked beak,


strong sharp talons, and flailing wings to ward off an
attacker.

and begins its rounds, visiting a


where it has had good luck hunting
in the past
in woodlots, orchards, around farmhouses,
barns, silos, corncribs, stock sheds and other outbuildings, in nurseries, stubbled grainfields and meadows, and
in cornfields where the dried stalks have been allowed to
fall over naturally or have been cut and shocked. At
such times the owl is keenly alert for the slightest movement or sound in the darkness below which may indileaves

succession of places

plum-

it may be carried to some safe place


and there torn part and swallowed piecemeal. Rarely
will this owl carry prey in its talons, and then normally

ishingly large prey)

when

only

it

is

simply too large to be carried in the

beak.

giving the appearance of coarse

an
Only when the bird be-

bark. In such a pose as this, the owl will often allow

come very

intruder to

close.

comes convinced that its disguise has been penetrated


will it reopen its squinted eyes, resume normal shape,
and quickly take flight.
The red-phase bird will sometimes do the same, although, unless it is perched near or amid reddish foliage
of

autumn-touched hardwood,

ble.

it

is

more

easily detecta-

In both color phases, detection does not always

Now

and then a strongly defensive posture will be assumed on the perch, wherein
the bird turns one side or the other of its body toward
the intruder, snaps its beak menacingly, glares fiercely,
and lowers and outstretches the wing facing the intruder in order to cover and protect the vulnerable
breast and abdomen.
Most often, though, Otus asio naevius spends its daypredicate immediate

light

flight.

hours safely in a hollow of a tree where,

threatens,

it

if

danger

quickly drops out of sight inside. Should

it

be caught away from such a hollow and ultimately take


flight in

order to escape, almost invariably

rectly to

some other hollow

quickly vanishes within

it

it

flies

di-

has used in the past and

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES


What

Almost always after sunset, usually


before the

full

fall

just at

eats

depends largely

upon where the bird happens to be and what kind of


is available. Beyond any doubt, however, the most
favored prey

is

small rodents

chiefly the

meadow

vole,

but also such other species as white-footed mice, house


mice, wood rats, and grasshopper mice. In addition, it
consumes great quantities of insects and other invertebrate animals, as well as a certain

number

of

fish,

am-

and small birds. In a survey conducted by John and Frank Craighead in Michigan,
during the years 1942 and 1948, it was determined that
the meadow vole and white-footed mouse alone comprised, respectively in those years, 95.3 per cent and
phibians,

reptiles,

87.2 per cent of the Eastern Screech Owl's prey.

There are times, however again, dependent upon


what is available when it feeds upon insects, birds,

fish,

or other prey forms almost to the exclusion of any-

flight,

Quite frequently it catches insect prey in


swooping down and, without stopping, snagging

else.

with its talons and at other


them on the wing in its beak, maneuvering much in the manner of the nighthawk while doing
so. One red-phase Screech Owl, discovering a large
number of moths circling a barnyard light, was observed to catch 37 of them in flight and carry them

them

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

Owl

prey

thing

it.

the Eastern Screech

off twigs or walls

times catching

dusk but

of night, the Eastern Screech

Owl

Eastern Screech

Owl

109

each

in turn to

nearby apple

its

tree.

proven, that the

nestlings waiting in the hollow of a

rictal bristles

portion of the

nasal

domestic hens, ruffed grouse, pigeons, and even ducks


have been killed and at least partially eaten by the

rictal bristles

hairlike feathers of the

Eastern Screech Owl. Cases are also on record where

perform the

domesticated ring-necked pheasants and golden pheas-

do the enormously wellof the whippoorwill and other

ants have been lost to Otus asio naevius. In the wild,

owl's

same insect-sensing function


developed

means

theorized, though by no

It is

facial

disks

as

the

little

goatsuckers.

and

During a population explosion of locusts in Nebraska


some years ago, the stomachs of eight Screech Owls were
found to contain a total of 2,976 insects, two mice and
one small bird. Oddly, just under 10 per cent of the insects were the extremely abundant locusts.
Fish do not play a major role in the Eastern Screech

These,

Owl's

Usually

avidly.

when

but there are times

diet,

they are eaten

when

occurs in winter

this

terrestrial

known

bird of prey has been

quail,
it

certainly

and was even seen

to kill

woodcock

sparrow hawk.

to kill a

should be noted, are isolated instances and


not indicative of the normal feeding habits

There are also cases, more commonly,


where the Eastern Screech Owl will gorge itself upon

of the species.

one form of prey that becomes suddenly abundant. In

one owl stomach were found


another there were

18

May

large

cutworms;

large

13

beetles;

in

in

a third

there were a total

of

prey becomes scarce and a nearby pond or stream has a

As a matter of

with the exception of the Burrow-

pocket of open water surrounded by

ing

Owl

cies

consumes such a volume

Owl

the Screech

will

At such a place
stand intently on the edge of the
ice.

ice or else circle the hole diligently until a fish rises,

take to wing and


the fish with

its

swoop

across the surface, snatching

much

talons

the

an osprey might. Arthur

as

Cleveland Bent reported that


observer checked

winter of 1877 an

in the

hollow of an

roosting

Owl and found

then

Eastern

horned pout,
was subsequently discovered that all the ponds in the immediate area were
frozen fast and under two feet of snow as well, but at a
Screech

four of which were

inside a total of 16

still

alive.

It

pond about a mile distant, a hole had been cut in the


surface by some ice fishermen and then abandoned. It
was from this hole that the Screech Owl was snatching
the 5-inch-long horned pouts as they rose to the surface.

For those 16

fish in its

roosting hole, the

owl had

little

fact,

50 medium-sized grasshoppers!

(Speotyto cunicularia sp.), no other owl speof insect

as

life

This owl has been observed to walk about

Otus

in the

asio.

more

overgrown meadows, methodically harvesting


night-dormant grasshoppers clinging to stems and

heavily

grass-blades.

Along those same

liably reported that

now and

lines,

has been

it

again the

little

owl

re-

will

wade into the shallows of streams, ponds,


and marshes in search of frogs, tadpoles, minnows,
crayfish, and aquatic insects.
While not normally herbivorous, Otus asio naevius
will sometimes dine on vegetable matter. Certain small
fruits and berries will be eaten, along with some whole
green plants. One witness was nonplussed as he
deliberately

watched an Eastern Screech Owl alight in his garden


after sunset and begin nipping off the tender
new growths from the ends of his nasturtiums and

just

already flown at least 32 miles!


Occasionally, during the breeding season in particu-

Eastern Screech

lar,

Owl

among

depredations

become alarming. Fortunately

birds can

swallowing them.
smaller

depreda-

this

a temporary state of affairs. Dr. Arthur A. Allen,

tion

is

the

famed Cornell University

The

ornithologist,

in

the prey birds

Owls brought

that

a pair of Eastern

Screech

to the trio of offspring in their nest.

prey birds comprised 24 species and totaled at


individual birds. Dr. Allen wrote:

The

least

98

bird of each species, the grand total of birds required


to

feed the three young owls from time of hatching

until left

by the old birds was certainly over one hun-

Amphibians make up a reasonable portion of the


Eastern Screech Owl's diet, especially frogs and toads,
although a

fair

number

of salamanders are also taken.

Some reptiles are caught and eaten,


in number and these are normally
nocturnal

will

at

snakes and

Once

times and

10

some

lizards

though fewer

limited

caught

to
just

small
after

a while a very small soft-shelled turtle

kill

and

eat.

Rather,

is

it

even

dauntlessly attacks creatures as

much

larger.

large

As already mentioned,
Screech

life

included

in

the

not meant to be a com-

is

it

merely representative

analyses or pellet dissection. It does,

from stomach

however, provide

a clear picture of the wide range of prey acceptable to


this

race of Screech Owl.

Mammals Wood rats, Norway rats, house rats, cotrats, meadow voles, white-footed mice, chipmunks,

ton

gophers,

flying

squirrels,

Insects
crickets,
horseflies,
pillars,

Birds

Beetles,

gray squirrels, red squirrels,

mantids,

lish

moths,

noctuid

cicadas,

and other

insect larvae of all kinds.

Downy

horned

woodpeckers,

wood pewees,

larks,

sparrows,

kingbirds,

pigeons,

snipe, blue jays, chick-

blackbirds,

cow-

catbirds, robins, grackles,

Eng-

starlings,

juncos,

and numerous native sparrow

chickadees, wrens, warblers of various


doves, woodcocks, cardinals, etc.

Owl

locusts,

hellgrammitcs, dragonflies. waterbugs, cater-

phoebes, grouse,
ens,

roaches,

etc

grasshoppers,

katydids,

birds, orioles, canaries,

appetite of this owl becomes prodigious indeed

as itself or
1

in

too,

be devoured.

The

animal

spermophiles, shrews, bats, moles,

dred."

sunset.

of

of the species that have been recorded

"Since the feathers

undoubtedly represent many more than one

in the nest

list

plete listing of every type of creature this bird of prey

1924
will

listed

following

Eastern Screech Owl's diet

species,

species,

ducks,

Minnows

Fish

various

of

small

species,

trout,

He may

not he actively seeks her out.

stay silently in

chubs, fingerling carp, horned pouts, bluegills, suckers,

her vicinity, though at a respectful distance, for two

bullheads, catfish, goldfish, small bass, dace, etc.

or three days before

Small

Reptile

snakes,

small

lizards,

soft-shelled

When

Amphibians

Various

frog

including

species,

bull-

Invertebrates

sundown

Crayfish,

scorpions,

spiders,

snails,

Almost without exception


this

animals

cludes

is

how

it

sizable

as

shrews, moles, birds

up

be eaten

portions

of

the

The

pelled as fecal waste.

pacted into the

into

prey

are

else

ex-

become
The

pellets.

pellets are generally

dark gray

be mistaken for animal

to

woo

do

so,

he shows

her.

com-

and can easily


Normally two to

found on the ground beneath a

good indication that the

is

of pellets

roosting place, but the

number

tree

is

regular

of pellets found

is

not

a reliable indicator as to the period of occupancy of


the owl.
gitated

Only

fall

a portion of the owl's pellets are regur-

they

that

so

fall

directly

beneath the

rounds while hunting.


Dissection of such collected pellets
tant in this

and other owl

is

curate

statistical

listings

highly impor-

what
Numerous ac-

species in determining

the owls of any given area are eating.


of

prey

animals

comprising

the food of wild owls have been compiled from close


analysis

and

identification of the skulls

and other un-

digestibles discovered within the pellets.

The
white

fecal

wastes are generally greenish black with

They are moistly viscous and are


well away from the perched owl. Feces

marblings.

usually squirted

are seldom expelled in

on

his perch.

He may

go

in

and out

Within a quarter-hour after the sun has set he takes


wing and flies to a perch more suitably near hers,

where she has been stoically roosting during the day.


Sometimes in flight, but more often immediately after
he alights, the male begins trilling softly. The note is
long and drawn out, pleasantly plaintive and lasting
from three to six seconds. Toward the end of the call
the tone rises slightly and there is almost the sense
call

may be

repeated several times, during which

the male concentrates only on the female, and the fe-

male takes pains

to act as

if

she

wholly unaware of

is

As if to insure that she can't help but


hear him, the male will move from perch to perch
around her, stopping on a fence post, in a tree, on a
barn eave or projecting rafter, on the roof peak of
some outbuilding or on similar perches, making certain to issue the same call at least once from each
place where he settles.
Most of these initial courtship maneuverings are
rarely seen by humans, since by this time night has
fallen. The preliminaries mentioned above may last
for more than half an hour but, with each new perch
he takes, the male has moved closer to her and soon he
is hopping from branch to branch
in the same tree
presence.

his

roost.

and a good many others


here and there as the owl makes its

inside the hollow

are simply cast

still

pellets

four pellets will be cast during each 24-hour period.

number

fluffing his feathers, preening, stretching fre-

fur,

in color

droppings.

to

This

formed by Otus asio naevius average about an inch


and a half in length and half that in diameter. As
soon as the pellet is well-formed inside the owl and
coated with a slippery mucus, it is regurgitated. Such

Some

mind
to

that with this rise in inflection he has asked a question.

undigestible materials

oval-shaped

tight,

in-

or

body or

feathers, claws, bones, teeth, chitin, etc.

rats,

size,

half

in

swallowed

either converted to use in the owl's

this in-

small

sparrow in

torn

is

and

mice,

large

as

to English

and fish. Larger prey


chunks and swallowed.
digestible

the prey can be swal-

if

will

sects,

tree

his

of his hollow a half dozen times or more.

centipedes, earthworms, etc.

lowed whole,

quently while

frogs; toads, salamanders.

making up

he reaches the decision

evidence of growing nervousness or excitement around

turtles.

All

at last

where she

now

is

perched.

He

begins swiveling his

continues singing to her, but

head back and forth

in

ludicrous manner. Soon he starts nodding his head as


well as swiveling it and then begins to bob his entire
body up and down on the perch. Occasionally, in a
rather hilarious way, he stops and stares at her and
then quite deliberately winks at her, first with one eye,

then with the other

long,

slow winks.

All

this

the

female also ignores.

The more

she refuses to heed his calls

more
and bowings. At

the

become

frantic

this

his

and

actions,

bobbings and swayings

time his calling

may

cease.

She

him unless he tries to alight next to


whereupon she will flail her wings savagely at
him until he flits away. Sometimes he goes far off and
the sound of his calling comes again from the distance,
but soon he returns to renew his efforts to interest her.
Not infrequently she will move to another perch, but
he continues following and seemingly acting the part
continues to ignore

her,
flight.

COURTSHIP AND MATING

of the love-stricken swain.

The

pairing of unpaired Eastern Screech

Owls be-

gins late in the winter, usually in February at the earliest,

although rarely as early as

late

January.

The male

bird sometimes finds the female of his choice by seeing

her

fly

past while he

is

perched, but more often than

At

last,

all

else

having

failed, the

male

settles

down

on a perch not very far from her (often on the same


branch but out of her reach).

He

fluffs

his

feathers,

couches his head deeply in his upper-breast plumage


until

Eastern Screech

his

Owl

beak

is

lost

from

sight,

and

sits

there

for-

111

ANNUAL BROODS,

and

lornly, all the while giving vent to a barely audible

deeply disconsolate groaning sound.

moment

This becomes the crucial

NEST,

NESTING HABITS

of acceptance or

rejection. If the female intends to reject him, she will

catapult
swiftly

away from the perch and disappear


the darkness, and this time he does not
however, she has decided to accept him

in

follow.

If,

which

always

practically

is

head and looks


as close to him

and

raises

at

him

the

then

directly,

she
sidles

her

turns

over to

sit

Immediately he perks up

as possible.

Sometimes

head.

his

case

their

and not infrequently they

briefly,

touch

beaks

preen one an-

will

nape or breast feathers.


Such courtship is extremely important, for the East-

other's

Owl mates

ern Screech

from

continue

This

for

Their relationship

life.

on

point

this

not to

is

killed,

Eastern Screech Owls have only one brood per vear,

herself

until

however,

imply,

will

broken by death.

that

if

remain

will

and winter, when their


association is most tenuous, the thread between them
remains intact and they tend to stay in one another's
together as mates.

Even

in fall

vicinity.

the pair has

If

families in the past,

it

this

is

first

nest of the previous

majority of cases,

not important

is

return

year.

If

by far the greater

In

Eastern

the

Owl

Screech

chooses

hardwood tree. The type of


Habitat and Roosting), but

to nest in the hollow of a


tree,

first

other

pairing, nest selection does not occur until

mating has concluded.

after

the

if

raised

that they will

likely

is

and reoccupy the same

mated and

(see

the cavity has to meet certain standards in most cases

owl

for the

consider using

to

as

it

For ex-

nest.

usually not face into prevailing winds,

will

it

although there are exceptions, nor will


directly facing the

Most preferred

sky.

be a hole

it

an opening

is

perpendicular to the ground, but there have been cases

where

be on the underside of a large upward-

will

it

The

sloping branch or leaning tree trunk.

size of

open-

ing most preferred seems to be from three to five inches


in diameter.

Courtship

is

phase of the

by no means predicated upon the color

Red-phase birds and gray-phase

bird.

mate without

birds of this species

and there

distinction

is

even a vague suggestion of gray-to-red preference.

It

seems

to

make no

difference

which sex

is

what

color

phase.

The

recorded

highest

Owl was 50

Screech

sycamore, but

encourage her to accept

it.

This

has

of activity

sort

the possibility of

no good reason for negating

is

it.

swiftly

and

in

relative

silence.

is

While the

is

it

Eastern

the

of

large

in

rare to find a

is

over 35 feet high.

Owl [Otus asio floridanus] for


Owl nesting hole of record.) The

Florida Screech

(See

preference seems to be for holes anywhere from as low

ground

as 5 feet off the

Sometimes they

around 20 feet in height.


be even lower and in one case,

will

to

where an Eastern Screech Owl nested


stump, the floor of the hollow was

ground

Again,

level.

When

the nest

this

is

in a cavity of a

actually

below-

the exception.

not in the natural cavity of a tree

is

or in the abandoned nesting hole of a flicker, then


in

Actual copulation between Eastern Screech Owls

performed

hole

above ground

nesting cavity for this race that

never been reliably witnessed between free birds in the

although there

nestinsr

feet

was unusual and

this

the highest Screech

Caged Eastern Screech Owls have occasionally gone


into courtship of sorts, and in such cases it is not uncommon for the male to bring bits of meat or an insect
or some other item of food to the female, set it down
before her and, with a series of bows and noddings,

wild,

destroyed.

is

the one remaining alive will not find another;

but as long as both are alive and well they

is

ample,

one mate

made

but a second laying will probably be

some other type

birdhouses are used

owl

for the

female crouches on the ground or on the broad low

clined

limb of an oak or other hardwood, the male approaches

to

of

use a

it

is

Sometimes

hollow.

the openings are large enough

if

to enter.

protected

The owl

more

tends to be

birdhouse or bird box as a

in-

nest

if

against her side. She then spreads her wings

tilts

on the floor
is
nesting
numerous
of it. In recent years the erection of
approximate
boxes for wood ducks boxes which well
has provided adea hollow in tree trunk or branch

her body slightly to one

tilts

quate nesting

boldly, grasps her

beak and

usually

nape feathers not too gently


places

side.

and
His own lower body

toward hers and their vents are brought


proximity,

in his

one foot on her rump or

though not necessarily touching.

into

close

Immedi-

ately the surprisingly elongated, sharply tapered

penis

emerges from the male and penetrates deeply into her


cloaca. Introduction of the sperm follows immediately

and the birds separate, fluffing


whole act does not usually last
seconds at a

maximum.

occur with the

first

their

for

Fertilization

The

feathers.

more than

re-

if

although

they project
Artificial

more commonly used than birdhouses or

nest

boxes are those to be found behind broken or loose


siding

boards

old

barns,

of

buildings,

deserted

and

other such structures.

Whatever the

is

as well,

from the water, as the majority of them do.


cavities

chosen as nesting

mating, and so copulation

Owls

the owls will usually avoid such boxes

ten

Owl

in exactly the

attempt

is

made

may

hollow
site, it

is

be

that

is

ultimately

used by the Eastern Screei h

condition in which

it

is

found.

No

to construct a nest in the bottom of

the hollow or to improve, in any way, whatever sort of

two weeks.

112

for Screech

sites

does not always

peated, perhaps a dozen times or more, over a period


of

a scattering of sawdust or excelsior

there

Screech

Owl

may

nest

the

eggs de-

March

Earliest,

not

relinquish

possession

May

18.

its

make

such cases are rare. Most often the owl


using the hollow for the rearing of

but tending to return to

year,

Persistent

humans may

Owl abandon

the Eastern Screech

hollow,

the

of

claim voluntarily.

pestering by birds, squirrels, or

it

the nest, but

stays,

not only

family the

its

known where

are

The

first

year after year for

same pair of owls have nested


and other cases are

the

INCUBATION AND BROODING


CHARACTERISTICS

possibly

both roosting and nesting. Quite a number of tree cav-

exact term of incubation for the eggs of the

Owl

Eastern Screech

still

is

open

to question

and actual incubation possibly not commencing


the third or fourth egg has been laid.

on record where the same cavity has been used regularly

have claimed that

each year for over twenty years by a succession of three

is

or four owl families. It

quite evident that once the

is

owl has taken possession of a nest hole


for as long as

away or the

driven

when

provided

lives,

it

it

will return to

it
is

not repeatedly

nest disrupted or destroyed.

that owl resident dies,

before another owl moves

is

it

usually not very long

especially

in,

And

if

the hollow

is

an exceptionally good one.

per nesting

it

under

various Otus asio subspecies there


tion in the

number

may

be a slight varia-

some

of eggs laid per nest. In

cases

will be as few as two or, rarely, as many as eight.


Even nine was reported once. But where Otus asio
it

naevius

concerned, there are normally four to

is

eggs per nest, with the usual

Color

All Screech

Owl

number being

six

five.

eggs are pure white or oc-

casionally a bit off-white with a faint creaminess.


ally,

Usu-

however, the eggs become blotched and stained

from the wastes in the


Shape Sometimes

27.

ovoid,

but

more often

laid,

and

Texture
cases,

Moderately glossy and,

with the

smooth

shell

to the touch.

finely

On

in the majority of

granulated but essentially

infrequent layings the gran-

is
more pronounced and the shell will feel
bumpy.
Size
From a measurement of 286 eggs, the average
length was 35.7 mm. (14") and the average width
was 29.9 mm. (1.2"). The extremes of the measured

ulation
faintly

not appear until the


1

seems evident that the term of incubation

not constant; rather,

upon conditions

tends to fluctuate, depend-

it

of weather, the time

and the hours

along with other related factors.

have seen, hatched

when

incuba-

of incubation daily,

The

first

egg, as

we

days, the second in 28 days,

in 31

and the fourth in only 25 days.


The shortest term of incubation on record for Otus
asio naevius was 21 days and the longest was 32 days.
the third in 27 days,

generally accepted figure now for the average


term of incubation is a rather nebulous "25 to 27 days."
While the savagery of the Eastern Screech Owl in

The

hunting

is

well

known,

as

is

its

ferocity at times in the

protection of offspring against even the most powerof adversaries,

An

brooding eggs.
yet

more

this

bird

is

strangely docile

may
human who comes

incubating female
at

too close,

often than not there will be no attack; just a

determination not to leave the eggs.

stolid

when

snap her

On many

occasions incubating females have remained on

their

clutch of eggs so tenaciously that they had to be physically

lifted

for the eggs to be seen

and counted. As

soon as such birds were released they returned to the


nest at once

The

and

resettled over the eggs.

authors once took a gray-phase incubating fe-

male from her somewhat oversized natural hollow in a


northern Illinois oak, made note of the measurements

eggs were:

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

length:

39.3

length:

28.5

width:

32.0

width:

28.5

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.6")

and then carried the female


bird about 50 yards away from the tree. Here she was
tossed into the air and instantly she found her bearings
and arrowed directly to the nesting hollow and disappeared within it. Evidently, once incubation has beof the six eggs in the nest,

(1.1")

(1.3")
(1.1")

Usually no less than 48 hours


between the laying of eggs, often as much as
72 hours, and occasionally even longer.
Interval of egg-laying

elapses

egg was laid the morning

this

beak threateningly

nearly globular.

first

The second egg did


March 30. On April

the third egg was


was followed by the fourth egg on April
4. Both the first and second eggs hatched on April
27, the third on April 28 and the fourth on April 29.

afternoon of

ful

nest.

slightly

that easy. For example, in one nesting

isn't all

tion actually begins,

of the

doesn't begin until the fifth egg

close scrutiny, the

March

of

ing

Throughout the range

until

authorities

these circumstances, could be figured out very quickly,

but

It therefore

Number

it

Some

would seem that incubation time, even under

laid. It

is

EGGS

because

of the problem of eggs being laid at irregular intervals

for six or seven consecutive years,

it

latest,

3;

the offal from prey, regurgitated pel-

the owl has taken

will

ities

dates

27; normally between March 26 and April

and droppings.

Once
it

is

Egg-laying

only contribution the

the chamber, other than

to

posited there,
lets,

The

already be there.

owl makes

gun,

little will

Perhaps

Eastern Screech

Owl

this

discourage
is

it.

part of the reason

why

the male does

"3

evidently quite willing to do


the

female

refusing,

the

in

It

so.

she

briefly

mainly
the male

as she leaves them.

He

practically

of

On

any

the rare occasions

for

water to drink and

settles

over the eggs as soon

leave

will

bathe in

very nearly as tenacious in this

is

and even when she returns he

responsibility as she,

is

simply a matter of

is

face

deterrent, to forsake her duty.

that

though he

actual incubating, even

so little of the

is

reluctant to leave the eggs until she virtually shoulders

him

Of

aside.

course,

as

has

many

times happened,

human

wearing

babies

downward

ing

easily

reluctance on the part of both parent birds

hollow to become so

filthy.

which causes the nest

The

and
the

of wastes,

nest hollow has

no better
their

own

after

become
hatching,

a foul
since

place indeed.
the

It

gets

young birds add

wastes to those already accumulated.

heads

rips

into small pieces, feeding the babies only

it

meat and, herself, swallowing the residue of unThere is some indication, though no con-

digestibles.

clusive proof, that at least a portion of the food

mother during the

the

the

few

first

is predigested to some extent. The food is pulled


from the mother's beak by the young and then swallowed with evident difficulty and no indication of
pleasure. The tiny beaks and natal down, especially on

become blood-stained.

the facial disks, quickly

processes of evacua-

whether these be fecal discharges or


pellet regurgitations, continue unabated during incubation, and by the time the hatchlings appear the

tion

Their

they are fac-

yet, and so the mother bird


mouse or other animal from the food supply

days

It is this

if

swallow prey whole as

to

selects a

low, the male bird will continue incubating until the

to leave the job of incubating

and

beak cannot be seen, they might

so the

babies receive from

are able to fend for themselves.

pajamas.

be mistaken for tiny kittens. They are too small

should she be killed while away from the nesting holeggs have hatched, then care for the young until they

fuzzy

are abnormally large at this stage,

By the end

baby birds begin


severity

day after hatching, the

the second

of

The

to shiver.

and frequency

day, the baby bird

is

until,

shivering increases in

by the end of the fourth

may be
Screech Owl

constantly trembling. It

that the shivering (for which the Eastern


is

sometimes called the "Shivering Owl") is caused by


natal down being too fine to provide adequate

the

protection against the outside temperature. This trembling condition gradually abates until the end of the

second week, by which time a

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

period and huddle

away from

food. Until the eggs hatch, the female eats only spar-

secondary downy plumage begin

what food he brings, so there always appears


to be an abundance of food during incubation. Though
sometimes she will reach out and take the offered food
from his beak, more often he simply drops it beside
her. Rarely, if ever, will male and female eat together

upperparts

from the same prey.

color phase the

The eggs are first pipped by their occupants a day or


two (sometimes even three) before actual emergence,

remains as white tipping on the

commence hatching

in earnest, the

abundance of food. Dead prey tends to stockpile at


first, but as the baby birds continue growing and eating and their demands increase, the stockpile quickly
disappears and all that remains is a clutter of fur,
feathers, and bones.
Newly hatched, the baby owls are remarkably attractive.

They

are covered with a fine coating of snow-

white fuzz which looks more

This delicate natal

down

ling except talons, beak,

like

covers

all

hair than

//^

in

On

the third or fourth day after hatching, the natal

down

turns to dirty gray as the dingy pinfeathers of a

the

with

base,

this

downy plumage

grayish

sepia,

appearing.

white

toward

the

underparts

while

On

the

a pale olive tan at

is

the

tips

are

and barred
gray

basically

white and not so broadly barred. Even at this young


stage each passing day shows clear evidence of what

young bird

will

be. The natal down


new secondary down,

and now the baby birds begin to be quite unattractive.


By the fifth day the baby birds frequently peck at the
mother's beak as if teasing for food. They still have
bluish-gray eyelids covering the bulging eyes and are
decidedly repulsive in appearance, not only because of
their coloring and physical aspect, but because by

become clotted with


now and continuing
for about a week, the baby birds become subject to
attacks of a peculiar sort of yawning at frequent in-

now

their

new

pinfeathers have

blood and excrement. Beginning

tervals.

feathers.

parts of the hatch-

and eyes (although the

latter

could be considered as bring covered, too, since at this


stage they are still sealed). Struggling feebly to crawl

about

this

the mother

the nest.

is

male bird redoubles his hunting efforts and brings


back to the nesting hollow what seems to be a super-

when

together

tightly

While the female is incubating and as long as she


continues to brood the young after they have hatched,
the male Eastern Screech Owl acts as purveyor of
ingly of

is

the brooding

mother. All the nestlings sleep a great deal during

CHARACTERISTICS

but as soon as they

coat of plumage

warmth beneath

the nestling seeks

ever,

new

Until the shivering passes, how-

protecting the bird.

the hollow, they look strangely like

minute
Screech

Nesting hollow scene


area of

-k<t

DuPage County,

li<cl

of a family of Eastern Screech

Owl

from

southwest

densely

wooded

Bensenville,

Illinois,

in

life
<>f

Owls (Otus

asio naevius)

The young birds are at their ugliest by the tenth to


The not-yet-fully-opened eyes are a milky
bluish in color and quite bulbous. The prominent beak
twelfth day.

and looks considerably like a


and demand
food constantly. By this time it is taking the combined
efforts of both parents to hunt down food enough for
them, and this food is now merely brought to the
hollow and dropped inside without the parent bird
even entering. This procedure can have tragic ramifications. Most of the nestlings will snatch at the prey at
the same time and begin struggling for possession,
their little hooked beaks tearing the meat in a sort of
tug-of-war melee. At such a time one of the young
birds may be mistakenly bitten by one of the others,
who tugs just as hard as before. A chunk of flesh
torn from one of the babies signals his death knell,

is

a slightly deeper blue

hooked

nose.

for the fresh

They

are filthier than ever

wound

continues to attract the attention

of the others, even after the prey

upon

fall

the prey,

the

wounded

and devour

bird, pull

gone.

is

They

will

apart as they did

it

Fortunately, this sort of thing

it.

on the twenty-fifth day, and these develop rapidly.


color phase is undeniably apparent now, and a
curious fact emerges: while the offspring of two different-color-phase parents, or two red-phase parents may
in

The

be

all

red or

corded of two gray-phase parents having in their nest

an offspring with even the


birds

during the fourth or

leave

the

will

hollow

nesting

enter,

lock his

enough,

large

is

talons

male

the

spongy wall about

the

in

levels of

size

the interval

hatching can be readily noted.

At the ninth week the fledglings are more than


and a molting of the body plumage occurs, beginning with the back and followed in succession
by the underparts and head. The first-winter plumage
half adult size

appearing rapidly,

lowed by wings and

the

the

is

a branch, that the different

begins

if

fifth

This

nest.

During the period when the female is still brooding


the baby birds, the male will perch near the nest hollow or find another hollow for himself close by, there
during the daylight hours. Sometimes, though,

slightest trace of red.

week that the juvenal


age at which the
young birds are most often seen. Normally they align
themselves on a branch and continue their same demands for food from their parents, who remain close
at hand to protect them, since they are still quite vulnerable. Now is the time, too, as they perch in a row on
It is

does not too often occur.

to rest

mixed red-phase and

gray, or even

all

gray-phase young, not a single case has ever been re-

more

like

Markings:
until the

tail.

first

in

and

fol-

is

is

(see Coloration

and

worn by the young

bird

that of the adult bird

Juvenile)

scapulars,

the

This first-winter plumage

postnuptial molt, which occurs the next

first

summer.

The matter

of the

brood leaving the nest

tree does

for the Eastern Screech Owl.

halfway between nest and entry, and remain clinging

not end the family

there as he sleeps.

For a period of another five weeks beyond this, the


young are closely tended by their parents. In the initial

Nest observations have indicated that the

first

ing of the day usually comes at about 8:45


9 p.m., though rarely any earlier than

feed-

p.m.

to

8:30 p.m. nor

stages

of

life

out-of-the-nest

this

adults

the

togetherness,

them to
parents and

are vigorously protective of the >oung and feed

later

than about 9:15 p.m. Feeding tapers off sharply


about midnight but continues sporadically until about

some extent, but as the young observe the


begin to emulate their hunting methods, the care

3 a.m. or, rarely, until as late as 4:15 a.m. During this


period the parent birds may bring food to the nest

minishes.

as

few

as only 10 or 12 times,

but there are also times

many

By

di-

August the family finally splits up.


The parent birds remain in their established territories and close to one another; the young birds go their
late

60 times in

own way,

striking out to establish their individual ter-

a single night. In one carefully recorded case the parent

ritories at

some

when

they

may

return with prey as

as

distance.

one
moths

birds returned to the nest with food 75 times in

young birds 73 fair-sized


The young birds at this age
stretch their bodies rather amazingly, and so great is
their elasticity that they seem to be made of rubber.
It is at this time, too, that they begin swallowing whole
night, delivering to the

and two

large

beetles.

prey and regurgitating their

By the twentieth day

alert,

lemon

and

yellow,

staring at each

with intense curiosity.

young owl's
have become bril-

after hatching, the

eyes are completely open, the irides


liantly

other

They

fledglings

the

and
are

thick, generally grayish or rusty

their

are

quite

surroundings

now covered

with a

(depending upon color

downy plumage which almost hides their limbs


and makes them look like soiled clumps of wool with
eyes. The young are now becoming rather attractive
phase)

again.

The
/;6

third

covering

YOUNG OWLS OFTEN MISS THEIR PREY

first pellets.

flight

feathers

begins

coming
Screech

Until they

become

well experienced in their hunting, young

owls frequently miss the prey they dive

when

the full

moon

near Elk Grove,

after.

On

woods

the authors watched with interest

Illinois,

as a first-winter Eastern

night

quite brightly lighted a snowy

Screech

dives after a white-footed

Owl made

three successive

mouse and missed each

time.

The

mouse, running and dodging erratically, successfully made it


to a mouse tunnel leading beneath a pile of brush. Such
misses rarely occur among any of the owls after the first year,
although the

first

winter

is

apt

to

be a

difficult

time for

young owls that have not yet very well developed their hunting techniques and are more eager than skilled.

Owl

^ "*- n /
9

Elk!

y-^

^o, i?

/"

"

-^

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
Otus

asio naevius does destroy a certain

game
damage

songbirds,

but the

enormous

the

number

of

and some poultry each year,


may do is far more than offset by

birds,
it

benefit

bestows in destruction of in-

it

Much depends upon


wHere the owl is located if one is to determine its
ecological and economic value or detriment. In a bird
and

jurious rodents

sanctuary,
clearly

insect pests.

example, the Eastern

for

detrimental, for

songbirds

that

are

will

it

themselves

for their insect-eating habits.

make up

Screech
large

economically

On

Owl

is

numbers of
valuable

the other hand, birds

a relatively small percentage of the normal

annual diet of Otus


prey

its

kill

are

and the majority of

asio naevius,

creatures

detrimental

distinctly

agricul-

turally.

analyses compiled from throughout

Pellet

range

its

indicate that at least 75 per cent of the Eastern Screech

Owl's food on an annual basis consists of injurious

mammals and
is

insects, while only about 7 per cent


comprised of birds, including not only songbirds,

game

birds,

such as

and

poultry, but equally

The comparative
Owl can best be

Screech
tical

information.

It

has

Otus

asio naevius

in prey daily

and

(Gmelin)

pest birds

seen through projected

been

owl consumes 25.3 per cent of


EASTERN SCREECH OWL

many

and English sparrows.


economic value of the Eastern

starlings, blackbirds,

10.3

determined
its

statis-

that

this

own body weight

during the autumn and winter months,

per cent daily in the spring and

summer

months. Since the average weight of the adult male


Eastern Screech
in

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

Owl

is

7.1

ounces,

this

means

that

one year's time the average male bird consumes

about 28.75 pounds of prey. Of this total, almost 22


is comprised of injurious rodents and insects.

pounds

Therefore, from the standpoint of both ecology and

Northeastern Minnesota, northern Michigan

(Che-

boygan County), southern Ontario (Lake Nipissing),


southern Quebec (Montreal), and Maine (Franklin
County), southward to eastern Kansas, Missouri, central
Illinois,

Ohio, and Virginia.

Winters somewhat southward, sometimes to Alabama


(Ardell)

and Georgia (Newton County.)

economics, the Eastern Screech

Owl must

being of great benefit. Not only does

it

be rated as

provide a real

service in the destruction of agriculturally detrimental

rodents and insects,

it

explosions

forms

of

life

also acts as a

check on population

which might otherwise

crease to the point where the natural balance

Like

all

other owls, Otus asio naevius

is

is

in-

upset.

a vital link in

the balance of nature.

MIGRATION
Primarily

Screech
bird.

resident

Owl cannot

Eastern

within

its

range,

rightly

be

termed a migratory

the

Yet there are times when some degree of seasonal

movement can be noted


severity

of

the

winter

largely

dependent upon the

and the

availability

of

prey.

XXIX

Otus

PASADENA SCREECH OWE

asio quercinus Grinnell.

Kern County,
373-K

About the most extensive migrational movements of


record, as determined from recovery of banded birds,
has been less than 500 miles and usually no more than

Gilberto, Mexico, April

200 miles.

A.O.U. Check-list

118

Screech

XXX
Otus

Owl

Female. Southeastern border of

California, February 17, 1969.

asio suttoni

A.O.U. Number

GUADALUPE SCREECH OWL

Moore. Male. Vicinity of Coahuila Noria de


2, 1945. Not included in the 1957

XJll.yL~A>*'

AIKEN'S SCREECH

OWL

TOTAL LENGTH

[COLOR PLATE XVI)

SCIENTIFIC

Subspecies average

209.7

mm.

(8.3")

WINGSPAN

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

Subspecies average: 533.4

Otus asio aikeni (Brewster). Original description:


Megascops asio aikeni Brewster, The Auk, Volume 8,
No. 2, April 89 1, p. 139; based on a specimen from

mm.

(21.0").

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

El Paso County, Colorado.

Subspecies average: 163.9

mm.

(6. 5").

OTHER NAMES
great plains screech

TAIL LENGTH

owl

After

geographical

its

distribution.

mm.

Subspecies average: 88.9

(3.5")

French-Canadian name mean-

d' aiken

le petit-duc

ing "Aiken's Little Duke."

BEAK LENGTH
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
smaller

Slightly

and somewhat darker

coloration than the

Owl (Otus

15.0

mm.

(0.6")

asio

Rocky Mountain Screech Owl (Otus


maxwelliae) It is larger than the Mexican Screech

HABITAT

Owl (Otus
more

general

in

or the

naevius)
asio

Eastern Screech

Subspecies average

cineraceus)

asio

but with the underparts

coarsely mottled or vermiculated

and the blackish

Confined primarily

to the

cottonwood margins along

streams.

medial streaks broader and more strongly contrasted

The

with the general coloration of the bird.

blackish

pencilings of the underparts are also heavier but some-

what

less

numerous than

Aiken's Screech

Owl

Owl (Otus

Screech

is

in the

Mexican Screech Owl.

about the

asio bendirei)

size
,

FOOD

of the California

but more generally

Almost

entirely

mice and grasshoppers.

ash-colored and with the dark markings considerably

and more numerous on both upperparts and

coarser

underparts.

NEST

WEIGHT

Natural hollows or abandoned woodpecker holes from


8

Subspecies average: 180.3

XXXI

Otus

asio

gr.

(6.3 oz.

feet

high,

especially

xxxn
asio

22, 1962.

Two

YUMA screech owl

yumanensis Miller and Miller.

cottonwoods

along

A.O.U.

A.O.U. Number 373-L

to five, but usually three or four.

measurements of 28
Male.

Colorado

River Basin, vicinity of Ripley, Riverside County, California,


20, 1971

in

EGGS

swenki Oberholser. Female. Five miles north of Bas-

Brown Rock County, Nebraska, October


Number 373-N

January

35

NEBRASKA SCREECH OWL

sett,

Otus

to

streams.

mm.

(1.4")

in

making them

eggs,

average egg

length by 30.7
just

trifle

mm.

larger

Based on the
size

(1.2")

than

was 359
in

those

width,
of

the

Eastern Screech Owl.


Aiken's Screech

Owl

"9

OTHER NAMES
bayou owl

From

habitat in Louisiana bayou coun-

try.

shoe owl

superstitious application derived

the belief that in order to


owl's call

and turn

ward

off evil spirits

from

when

the

heard, the individual must get out of bed

is

his left

shoe upside down.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The red-phase and gray-phase
in tone than

Otus

more arched.

the beak

The Southern Screech Owl


phases

birds are both darker

but smaller and with

asio naevius,

than

floridanus)

the

is

lighter in both color

Owl

Screech

Florida

(Otus

asio

but larger.

Barrings and markings in the red phase are more


abundant and blacker in tone, and the dark mottlings
in the gray phase are in

much

greater contrast to the

background color than in the Eastern Screech Owl.


But in the red phase they are less numerous and not so
dark as

in the Florida

Screech Owl, and the dark mark-

ings in the gray phase are not so clearly delineated.

AIKEN

SCREECH OWL

Otus asio aikeni (Brewster)

WEIGHT
DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

Subspecies average: 185.7

gr. (6.5 oz.)

Northwestern North Dakota and northwestern Min-

southward

nesota

into

extreme

Oklahoma

western

(Kenton), extreme western Kansas, and eastern and


central Colorado

(El Paso County), into central

TOTAL LENGTH

New

Mexico, central and western Texas, northeastern Arizona, and southward to northern Durango, Mexico.

Subspecies average: 216.0

Subspecies average

{COLOR PLATE XVII)

Otus

Volume
Noctua
page
120

asio

asio

asio

(Linnaeus).

Original

531.9

mm.

.o'

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Strix

(8.5").

WINGSPAN

SOUTHERN SCREECH OWL

SCIENTIFIC

mm.

Subspecies average: 158.

mm.

(6.2").

description:

Linnaeus, Systematica Natura, Edition

10,

TAIL LENGTH

1758, page 92; based on the Little Owl,


aurita minor Catesby, Carolina, Volume 1,
1,

Subspecies average: 78.8

from a South Carolina specimen.


Screech

Owl

mm.

(3-i")-

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average

mm.

15.2

(0.6")

FEET
Very densely feathered.

VOICE
The

principal call has occasionally been

the soft, far-distant

compared

to

whinnying of a horse.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
The beak

coloration

may

vary from a dull blue gray

There

to a rather bright pistachio greenish.

is

a brown-

intergrade between the red-phase and gray-phase

ish

birds

which

is

not

uncommon

in

some parts of the


The mark-

South, particularly in northern Louisiana.


ings of the

brown intergrade

are an intermediate blend-

SOUTHERN SCREECH OWL

ing of the markings of gray phase and red phase.

Otus

asio asio (Linnaeus)

HABITAT
Primarily

lowland bird, preferring sparse wood-

lands and marshy

meadows

from coastal areas


Appalachian slopes.

try

as well as

to the higher

open bayou counwoodlands of the

CALIFORNIA SCREECH

{COLOR PLATE

OWL

XVIII)

EGGS
Usually four to

six eggs,

SCIENTIFIC

many
March or

but as few as two or as

These eggs are normally laid in late


From the measurements of 77 eggs, the
average length was 35.0 mm. (1.4") and the average
width was 30.0 mm. (1.2").
as eight.

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

early April.

Otus

asio bendirei

(Brewster). Original description:

Scops asio bendirei Brewster, Bulletin of the Nuttall


Ornithological Club, Volume 7, Number 1, January
1882, page 31; based on a specimen from Nicasio,
California.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Common

in every state

southward and eastward of a

OTHER NAMES

line from the northern Virginia coast westward to central

Kansas, then southward to the eastern Texas coast.

However,

and absent

it

in

is

uncommon

in

northwestern

Arkansas

both central and southern Florida.

bendire's screech
thologist

Major C.

Southern / Calif ornia Screech

Owl

owl

After the esteemed orni-

E. Bendire.

121

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average

mm.

226.1

(8.9").

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average

572.8

mm.

(22.6").

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average

167.6

mm.

(6.6").

TAIL LENGTH
Subspecies average

80.5

mm.

(3.2").

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average
CALIFORNIA SCREECH

Otus

Owl

singularly uniform in

has no red color phase and


its

color tone. It

gray phase of the Southern Screech


asio)

is

down
Screech Owl

Owl

(Otus asio

and belly, whereas the California


is more notably ashy white and both
barred and streaked thickly across the median line of
breast and belly without break. These barrings and
streakings are rather fine and tend to give a somewhat
smoky appearance to the general coloration of the
line

mm.

(0.6").

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

is

similar to the

except that the Southern race has an unmarked

median

15.2

asio bendirei (Brewster)

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
This Screech

OWL

The shaft streaks of black on both belly and breast


plumage are quite heavy, but the underparts are not as
conspicuously crosslined as in the gray phase of the

breast

Eastern Screech Owl.

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

underparts.

The

ate elevations

Southern Screech Owl.


It

is

Screech
It

is

darker and vaguely browner than the Saguaro

Owl (Otus

brewsteri)

asio gilmani)

and both smaller and a

and normally

Owl (Otus

bit paler in

coloration than MacFarlane's Screech

asio

general

Owl (Otus

roosts in

located from 20 to 60 feet high in conifers.

hollow of a hardwood tree

smaller than Brewster's Screech

moderwoodpecker holes

Prefers the timbered foothills of mountains at

ear tufts are not quite as long as those of the

natural

hollow

rather

is

When

used, the preference

than

an

is

for

abandoned wood-

pecker hole.

asio

macfarlanei)

FOOD
WEIGHT

Preys heavily

upon house sparrows and mice, but

is

less of an insect eater than most of the other Screech

Subspecies average: 215.5

122

Owl

gr. (7.5 oz.

Screech

Owl

races.

NEST

although occasionally there

Most often
Almost invariably
indifferent

effort

woodpecker

in old

On

times in natural cavities.


to

occasion

partially

holes, but

the

line

some-

may make an

it

bottom of the

it

is

warm

is

a brownish-gray phase.

gray and not considered as

Owl

being dichromatic. Brewster's Screech

Owl (Otus

Kennicott's Screech
is

smaller,

grayer,

paler,

is

similar to

but

asio kennicottii)

and with

less

brown.

Owl (Otus

than the Eastern Screech

It

it
is

nesting cavity with a few bits of pine-needle clusters,

slightly larger

dried grasses, and a few feathers.

naevius) and the shaft streaks on upperparts and underpays are more in contrast with the general coloration,
although the crosslining on the undcrparts is less conspicuous than on the Eastern Screech Owl. It is a
smaller and darker owl than MacFarlane's Screech Owl

EGGS

asio

(Otus asio macfarlanei)

As few

more than

as two, but not

They average

smaller than those of the

slightly

just

five; usually four.

Eastern Screech Owl. Based on measurements of 45


eggs, averages were 31.2 mm. (1.2") in length and
29.9

mm.

late

March and

(1.2")

in

as

WEIGHT

width. Eggs are laid as early as


as

late

mid-May, but most often

Subspecies average: 222.5

(7-8 oz.).

gr.

during April.

TOTAL LENGTH
DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA
South-central Oregon (in Josephine, Jackson, Curry,
and Klamath counties), and northwestern coastal region
of California
exclusive of the narrow coastal strip in
Del Norte and Humboldt counties), from Trinity
County south to Monterey Bay, and inland to the edge
of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley. In the OregonCalifornia border area it tends to intergrade with Brew-

Subspecies average

ster's

Screech Owl. making

it

the intergrading
as

Otus

most

is

distinct)

asio bendirei or

northward

to

Otus

Mount

the

brewsteri.

Extends

(9.1").

mm.

(23. 6")

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

(where

should be referred to

asio

mm.

Subspecies average: 599.8

questionable as to whether

area

229.8

WINGSPAN

specimens from the Eureka, California,

Subspecies average

171.4

mm.

(6.8").

Shasta area on the western

slope of the Sierras.

VOICE
BREWSTER'S SCREECH

OWL

of the most silent Screech

Owl

races; not partic-

and nesting

periods.

[COLOR PLATE XIX)


SCIENTIFIC

One

ularly vociferous even during the courtship

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

Almost always with brownish or buffy markings on


Otus

Otus

asio

brewsteri Ridgway.

asio brewsteri

Bulletin,

Number

Ridgway, U.

50, Part 6, 1914,

Original description:
S.

National

Museum

the underparts, and sometimes the entire ground color


of the underparts suffused with a buff coloration.

page 700; based on a

specimen from Salem, Oregon.

GENERAL HABITS AND


DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
This owl, named after the famed ornithologist, William Brewster, by Robert Ridgway, has no red phase,

CHARACTERISTICS
Brewster's Screech

Owl

the state of Oregon, but

Brewster's Screech

Owl

is
it

the most
is

common

owl

in

not very often seen be-

123

EGGS
As few

two on rare occasions and, even more


as ten. Normally three to six eggs are
laid, and most often four. Measurements of 10 eggs
averaged 37.3 mm. (1.5") in length and 31.2 mm.
as

many

rarely, as

(1.2") in width.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Brewster's

Owl normally

Screech

altitudes than does

resides

higher

at

MacFarlane's Screech Owl. Found

in Oregon (west of the Cascade Range and south of the


lower Columbia River Valley), and a narrow coastal

belt

northwestern California

in

County).

Humboldt

'Carlotta,

northward

Continues

to

Chelan

Washington, and westward from there

to

County,

the

Pacific

coast.

MEXICAN SCREECH OWL


(COLOR PLATE XX)
BREWSTER
Otus

SCREECH OWL

asio brewsteri

SCIENTIFIC

Ridgway

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
cause of

its

highly nocturnal habits. If seen at

daytime,

it

will

almost certainly be in

the

all

in

midst of

the nesting period and even then only on a heavily overcast day.

Otus

Volume
on a

Prefers the

grown

in

somewhat lower

slopes

asio

Number

cineraceus Ridgway,

The Auk,

October 1895, page 390; based


specimen from Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
12,

HABITAT
well

(Ridgway). Original descrip-

cineraceus

asio

Megascops

tion:

4,

OTHER NAME
and creek

valleys

ARIZONA SCREECH

oaks and cottonwoods.

tion in the

FOOD

United

OWL

After

its

geographic distribu-

States.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Primarily mice and insects, but including a certain

number

Closely related to the Saguaro Screech

of small birds during the nesting season.

asio gilmani)

and

still

Owl (Otus

claimed by some authorities

to

be the same race; there are nevertheless some significant differences.

NEST

Though

their breeding ranges closely

Mexican Screech Owl


somewhat more conspicuous at all times, the wings
are a little longer, and the tail a trifle shorter. Too,
intermingle, the ear tufts of the

are

Usually in old woodpecker holes, but occasionally


suitable

natural

tree

hollows.

rarely less than 20 feet high or

124

The

nesting

more than 35

cavity

in
is

feet high.

Screech

whereas the Saguaro Screech


slopes

Owl

and

hilltops, the

Owl

tends to inhabit the

Mexican Screech Owl shows a

preference

Screech

for

Owl

valleys.

races, the

One

of

the

smallest

Mexican Screech Owl

of
is

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

the

some-

what smaller than the Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio


naevius) and is generally an undistinguished gray brown

Strictly
in over-all coloration.

monochromatic

in the gray

phase only.

The

upperparts are a distinct ashy gray, sometimes with just


cast, and with numerous black shaft
on the back. The shaft streaks on the underpays are narrower but are also very black, and there

a vague brownish
streaks

WEIGHT

are no clear white interspaces in the delicate crossbars


and vermiculation. The vermiculation on both upperparts and underparts is considerably more delicate than

Subspecies average: 166.1 gr. (5.8 oz.)

those

of

Though

Aiken's

Screech

this bird often

Owl

(Otus

asio

aikeni)

tends to give the impression of

being somewhat brownish in general coloration, close

examination invariably indicates that

an
There is
little trace of real brown anywhere in the plumage and
no brown-phase or red-phase bird has ever been found.

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average: 184.4

mm.

illusion created

(7.3")

551.2

mm.

this

warm

is,

instead,

grays.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average

by the shading of

JUVENILE

(21.7'

Ordinarily

much more narrowly

juveniles of other

Otus

crossbarred than the

asio subspecies.

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average

163.2

mm.

GENERAL HABITS AND

(6.4").

CHARACTERISTICS
The Mexican Screech Owl

TAIL LENGTH

is

more openly

habits than most other Screech

its

Owl

sociable in

races. It

is

in-

clined to begin calling just after sundown,

Subspecies average

87.7

mm.

and soon upward of from four to ten birds will be calling back and
forth. They begin moving gradually closer together and
gather in loose groups for a short while before moving

(3.5").

off generally together in the

deepening

twilight.

BEAK
Varies from greenish yellow to deep slate green; most
often

is

HABITAT

a dull shade of dusky yellow green.

Most fond
the

desert,

foliage

heavy scrub-growth areas of

near moist creek valleys where

tends to remain greener and thicker than in

surrounding areas.

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE


The

of moderately

especially

ear tufts tend to be a shade wider at their base

than those of other Otus asio subspecies, and perhaps


just slightly longer

eyelids

is

distinctly black.

When

watching.

the

Superbly bark-camouflaged and well able to mimic

eyes without irides are

equally a knob on the limb of the giant saguaro cactus

the eyes are closed there

odd impression that very black


still

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

on the average. The plumage of the

a bit heavier than in other races and quite


is

or a stub of branch on an oak or willow.

Mexican Screech Owl

The Mexican
'

25

EGGS
Normally there are three or four
while five eggs will be

laid.

Though

an individual

to

Once

nesting, but very occasionally only two.

in a great

these eggs are pure

they often seem to be reddish-brown

white,

speckled

eggs of a sparrow hawk, but the speckles are

like the

merely stains resulting from the parasitic

activities

of

which infest the parent birds. On the basis of


measurements of 37 eggs, the average length was 34.3
mm. (1.4") by 28.7 mm. (1.1") in width.
the fleas

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Southern Nevada

(Grapevine Mountains, exclusive

Colorado River Valley), and central and southern Utah, southward through central and eastern Ari-

of the

zona, southwestern and southern

New Mexico

to central

Sonora, Mexico, southern California, Baja California,

and mountainous west-central Texas.

FLORIDA SCREECH OWL

{COLOR PLATE XXI)


MEXICAN SCREECH OWL
Otus

asio cineraceus

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

(Ridgway)

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus
tion:

Screech

Otus

Owl seems

asio var. Fioridanus

the Essex Institute,


to be

one of the most susceptible of

(Ridgway).

fioridanus

asio

Scops

Volume

5,

Original

descrip-

Ridgway, Bulletin

Number

2,

P a g e 20 ; based on a specimen from

1873,
asio races to infestations of fleas.

of

December
Indian

River, Florida.

OTHER NAMES

FOOD
beach owl

Primarily mice, rats, and insects, but the diet varies

widely according to season and

Quite readily feeds upon

kangaroo

rats,

ground

availability

lizards,

frogs,

of

small

prey.
birds,

cially

owl

perches with

For
its

death owl
its

call

will

is

its

is

not

uncommonly

seen at

grasses, espe-

coast.

superficial catlike

appearance as

ear tufts upraised and eyes

For the superstitious

it

slitted.

belief that

when

heard, someone of the hearer's acquaintance

soon die.

ii\mmock owl

NEST

it

on the Florida Gulf

cat

squirrels, crayfish, scorpions, grass-

hoppers, locusts, and beetles.

Because

dusk hunting along the fringe of beach

For the hammocks

it

inhabits,

es-

pecially in the Florida Everglades area.

Hollows from 10

to

30

feet

high in oaks and willows

along creek margins are especially favored, with no detectable

preference

between natural

cavities

and old

woodpecker holes. Quite frequently takes up residence


in the abandoned hole of a Gila woodpecker or gilded
flicker located relatively

126

high

in a

saguaro cactus.
Screech

oak owl
of the live

Because

oak

palm owl

it

often nests and roosts in hollows

tree.

After

its

use of

abandoned woodpecker

and flicker holes in palm trees as nesting


sand owl For the same reason that
as the Beach Owl.

Owl

sites.
it

is

referred to

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
This

the smallest of the Florida owls,

is

even the Florida Burrowing


floridana)
asio.

It

is

it

is

also the smallest eastern

is

is

form of Otus

and gray phases, although the red-

considerably

smaller and

less

common

more deeply colored

either the Eastern Screech

Owl (Otus

the Southern Screech

in

Owl (Otus

Most

including

(Speotyto cunicularia

very markedly dichromatic with deeply and

richly colored red

phase bird

Owl

VOICE

than the gray.

It

both phases than


asio naevius)

are virtually identical with those of the

calls

Eastern Screech Owl, the difference being that those of


the

Owl

Screech

Florida

tend

to

be

slightly

more

tremulous and not quite as far-carrying. In addition,


bird

this

Otus

has been

drumming

pitched

known

utter

to

peculiar

low-

note unlike anything uttered by other

asio subspecies.

or

asio asio).

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

WEIGHT
Although
Subspecies average: 167.4 g r (5-9 oz -)
-

it

is

classed as dichromatic, there are actu-

ally three color phases,

with the gray phase predominat-

more

much

phase occurring

ing, the red

brown-phase

rarely, a

less

often and, even

bird. In the red

phase the

underparts are white, but quite heavily mottled with

tawny and streaked with very dark brownish gray, and


the same streaking is on the upperparts, which are

TOTAL LENGTH

generally a distinct russet in general coloration. In the

Subspecies average

211.0

mm.

(8.3").

gray-phase bird, the upperparts are a rather dark drab

somewhat indistinctly marked with brownand the underparts have narrow


streaks of the same over a general coloration of gray
brown. The rare brown phase replaces all ground-color
reds or grays with a fairly deep brown on the upperparts
and buffy brown to medium brown on the underparts.
coloration

black

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average: 509.7

mm.

(20.1")

streakings,

GENERAL HABITS AND

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 151.1

mm.

CHARACTERISTICS

(6.0"}

As with the other Screech Owl

Owl

Screech

is

subspecies, the Florida

primarily nocturnal, spending practically

daylight hours perched in a well-camouflaged posi-

all

tion close to the trunk of heavily foliaged orange trees

BEAK

mango

or

trees, or else

hidden

in the

hollow of a

live

oak or palm.

Rather horn-colored, but with a pale greenish


and becoming whitish at the tip.

cast

HABITAT
May

FEET

be found equally well

in various types of Florida

and cover, from oak hammocks and citrus


groves to relatively open pine and cypress forests, palmetto scrublands, and tree-scattered grasslands along
terrain

The

toes of the Florida Screech

sparse, bristly

Owl

are covered with

plumage.

beaches.

FOOD

EAR TUFTS
Slightly longer for the size of the bird than are those

of the Eastern Screech

Owl.

In addition
the bulk of

Florida Screech

Owl

its

to the

mice and

diet, the

insects

which make up
Owl consumes

Florida Screech

127

EGGS
Otus

floridanus lays fewer eggs than do most

asio

Owl

Normally there are only


most common number,
but two eggs much more often than four. From the
measurements of 57 eggs, the average egg size came to

other Screech

two

subspecies.

to four eggs, with three the

33.7

mm.

(1.3")

length and

in

mm.

28.8

(1.1")

in

width.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


The range

of this interesting

considerably over recent

little

owl has increased

Although

decades.

still

northward

to

Gainesville

the

area,

it

also

is

pri-

Key West

marily confined to the Florida peninsula from

found

along the Gulf coast to eastern Texas, along the At-

South Carolina, and north-

lantic coast to east-central

ward

in the Mississippi

Ohio River.

of the

whether

this

It

River Valley as far as the mouth


has not been clearly determined

has been an actual increase in the Otus

asio floridanus population with

resultant expansion of

was over a larger region


when Robert Ridgway originally described

range, or whether the form

than realized

the race in 1873.

FLORIDA SCREECH

Otus

asio floridanus

OWL

SAGUARO SCREECH OWL

(Ridgway)

{COLOR PLATE XXII)


numerous salt-water crustaceans, lizards (mainly skinks
and anoles), frogs, toads, fresh- and salt-water fish,
spiders, and scorpions. Much prey is taken crossing

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

little-traveled roads at night.

Otus

asio gilmani

Swarth. Original description: Otus

asio gilmani Swarth, University of California Publica-

COURTSHIP

tions

Condor, Volume

May

begin as early as late

but more
ally

commonly

in

November

or December,

men from

and The
1916, page 163: based on a speci-

Volume

Zoological,

18,

Quite often

1,

January and February; occasion-

in the natural cavities of live oak, pine,

more commonly in abandoned


woodpecker holes 8 to 30 feet high

cypress, but

or pileated

trunks of sabal (cabbage)

holds the record

palms.

among

The

flicker

in the

Florida Screech

the species for nest height,

Florida Screech

Owl

Englewood, Florida,

above the ground.


Screech

SKETCHES

gray phase of coloration was

summer

of 197

live

The

oak near

bird at

first

but then settled down, at one point seeming almost to fall


asleep, while portrait sketches were made. Finally, placed

on the top wire of a fence,


growth.

feet

FIELD

struggled vigorously against being held firmly about the body

palm hollow

80

in the

in the

seconds before winging

fully

OWL

captured by the authors in the hollow of a

with a well-documented nesting having occurred in a

128

page

Blackwater, Pinal County, Arizona.

FLORIDA SCREECH

Owl

19 10,

not until March.

NEST
and

7,

Owl

it

remained there

off swiftly into

for about thirty

some dense

sabal

palm

>.yo

...

"^g? ^j##
<*>-;

j;.

a 4>

fV^'

*u
Vn-

fcA
J

AS.

m^J
*ffX

same

tone

basic

though

gray,

of

sometimes

faintly

darker above than below. Plumage on legs and toes is


white with a faint grayish touch and sparsely patterned
with dusky. Recent accounts

extreme

in a line of

Owl (Otus

this race as

list

being the

divergence from the Eastern Screech

asio naevius)

WEIGHT
Subspecies average: 158.5

gr. (5.6 oz.).

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average: 180.6

mm.

(7.1").

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average: 486.1

mm.

(19.2").

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 155.5

SAGUARO SCREECH OWL

mm.

(6.1").

Otus asio gilmani Swarth

TAIL LENGTH

OTHER NAMES
Arizona screech

owl

Subspecies average

92.5

mm.

(3.7").

Because of geographical loca-

tion.

Mexican screech owl


infringing on the

For the same reason, though


of Otus asio cineraceus.

BEAK LENGTH

common name

TECOLOTITO CHILLON DE LOS SAGUAROS Mexicanname meaning "Little Screech Owl of the

Subspecies average

13.3

mm.

(0.5").

Indian

Saguaro."

VOICE
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Differs considerably

from the voice of the Eastern

Screech Owl, having the distinct bouncing-ball double

Although

it

is

included

in

many

older

listings

as

trill

with

less

being identical with the Mexican Screech Owl, more

dividual notes

recent descriptions substantiate the findings in the origi-

of the call

Swarth that the differences are significant and constant and that it should be listed, as a
separate race. The Saguaro Screech Owl, which occurs
nal description by

only in the gray phase,

is

slightly

smaller

more

clearly separated.

duller than

this subspecies,

is

that of

considerable calling occurs

groups as the fledgling owls begin

among

flying.

than the

Mexican Screech Owl, though with tail a bit longer. In


its darker markings it is more restricted than the Mexican Screech Owl, and the ground color is a paler gray.
Underparts and upperparts tend to be very nearly the
130

is

and with the inThe whole tone


Otus asio naevius. In

of a melodious quality

Screech

HABITAT
Almost

Owl

strictly

keeps to very arid desert terrain.

family

ENEMIES

ward through

southern

Colorado River Valley


Rarely,

if

ever, harassed

by smaller birds, as so often

HUNTING METHODS
catch

consistently

to northeastern

enough food during the

night to lay aside a small store of

it

be fed to the

to

in

the

extreme southern Nevada,


Baja California and extreme

northern Sonora, Mexico.

occurs with the Eastern races.

Adults

southward

northward

Arizona,
to

It

is

plentiful

in

the

lower

plains from Santa Rita and Santa Catalina Mountains


westward. The distribution on the whole is quite a bit
like that of the Mexican Screech Owl except that the
Saguaro Screech Owl is more inclined to inhabit the
hotter valleys and desert flatlands, while the Mexican
Screech Owl prefers the foothill slopes and oak-grown
canyon areas.

when

nestling birds at intervals during the day, even

the nestlings are at an advanced age.

HASBROUCK'S SCREECH OWL

FOOD

{COLOR PLATE

XXIII)

Mice in abundance, but even more insects than mice


and considerably more lizards than are caught and eaten
by other
(Otus

races, including

asio floridanus)

even the Florida Screech

Scorpions also

make up

Owl

a sub-

SCIENTIFIC

stantial part of the diet.

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus asio hasbroucki Ridgway. Original description:
Otus asio hasbroucki Ridgway, U. S. National Museum

NEST

Number 50, Part 6, 19 14, page 694; based on


a specimen from Palo Pinto County, Texas.

Bulletin,

Hardly without exception the nest is in a woodpecker


hole in saguaro cactus, from as low as 4 feet high to
about 35

feet.

Sometimes

in similar holes or (less often)

natural cavities in creek valley live oaks, sycamores, and

cottonwoods.
in

On

an old magpie

extremely rare occasions

it

may

nest

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

nest.

Owl was named by RobM. Hasbrouck. It is similar in its


Texas Screech Owl [Otus asio mccallii)

This generally gray Screech


ert

Ridgway

markings

EGGS

but

As few as three, but usually four or five. Eight eggs


have been recorded. Based on a sampling of 1 1 eggs, the
average size is 34.1 mm. (1.3") in length and 29.0 mm.
(1.1") in width.

is

No

case has been recorded

to the

a considerably larger bird, rather darker in gen-

eral coloration

and not

as buffy gray

on the upperparts.

more
plumage has mottlings
that are considerably darker brown than those of the
Texas Screech Owl. A rare red phase occurs about 5
per cent of the time and is a dark red like the Eastern
In addition, the underparts have broader and

numerous barrings and the

Screech

FAMILY LIFE CHARACTERISTICS

after E.

Owl (Otus

asio

leg

naevius)

but with a heavier

pattern of markings.

where the male has shared

the nesting hole with the brooding female, as sometimes

occurs with other Screech

Owl

subspecies.

He

roosts in-

WEIGHT

stead on a nearby branch or in another hollow not far


distant.

Subspecies average: 1993

gr. (7.0 oz.).

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

TOTAL LENGTH
Southwestern California

especially the lower Colo-

rado River Valley and the Imperial Valley) and

east-

Subspecies average: 211.2

Saguaro I Hasbrouck' s Screech Owl

mm.

(8.3")

'3'

NEST
Mostly

in natural tree hollows

and woodpecker

holes,

but on occasion in martin houses.

EGGS
Sometimes three, usually four, occasionally five, rarely
Based on the measurements of 27 eggs, the average
size of the egg is 34.8 mm. (1.4") in length and 30.0

six.

mm.

(1.2") in width.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Confined to an area from southeastern Kansas
(Greenwood County, Cedar Vale) and northwestern
Arkansas, through central and eastern Oklahoma to
central Texas. In Texas it is well distributed from
Travis and Kerr counties to Palo Pinto and Dallas
counties, but less abundant in the counties of Lampasas, Cooke, Eastland, and McLenna.

HASBROUCK
Otus

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCREECH

SCREECH OWL

asio hasbroucki

OWL

Ridgway

{COLOR PLATE XXIV)

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average

mm.

536.5

SCIENTIFIC

(21. 1").

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH
Subspecies average: 157.8

mm.

Otus asio inyoensis Grinnell. Original description:


Otus asio inyoensis Grinnell, The Auk, Volume 45,

Number 2, April 1928, page 213; based on a specimen


from Independence, Inyo County, California.

(6.2").

BEAK
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Usually somewhat lighter greenish to dull greenish


yellow.

Named
Joseph

by the noted California ornithologist, Dr.

Grinnell,

after

the

Inyo

Mountains

of

Cali-

GENERAL HABITS AND


Two common

CHARACTERISTICS

Owl (Otus

posturings of the Southern California Screech

asio

inyoensis)

perching pose and

Hasbrouck's Screech
ture

and

it

is

humans when

may
132

noted for
it

Owl
its

has a very pugnacious na-

unusual belligerence toward

has eggs or young, even

when

these

be in no particular jeopardy.

Screech

(right)

including

(left)

normal relaxed

elongated camouflaging posture

assumed when disturbed. The individual shafting of each


feather is black, the feet and legs arc barred with dark brown,
and the underside of the wing is somewhat darker than customary among Screech Owls.

Owl

c,

&*

i'.*

%*^

V;n*tet~W \*<K

Co. ;

<*'

\<^

To

r\wO

> C1

a/

^-oh

<))<+

c*"

yek-j

davK

bkou/^i

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average: 538.7

mm.

(21.2").

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 162.3

mm.

(6.4").

TAIL LENGTH
Subspecies average

81.3

mm.

(3.2").

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average

15.2

mm.

(0.6")

HABITAT
Primarily oak-grown slopes and minor low-elevation

canyons, especially where there

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL

is

standing or running

water.

Otus asio inyoensis Grinnell

FOOD
Mainly mice,

Owl

which is fairly large


as compared to most other southwestern Otus asio subspecies, is a somewhat paler ashy gray in general coloration than the Rocky Mountain Screech Owl (Otus asio
maxwelliae) and has less of a brownish cast. The pattern of markings is similar to those markings on the
Rocky Mountain Screech Owl except that the white
spots on the closed-wing outer primaries are a good bit
smaller and the vermiculations of belly, breast, and legs
are almost black rather than a medium dark brown.
fornia, this Screech

insects,

and

lizards.

subspecies,

EGGS
From

three to

six,

with four being the most

and five not unusual. Average egg


on measurements of 17 eggs, is 36.0 mm.
length and 30.1 mm. (1.2") in width.
clutch

common

size,

based

(1.4")

in

WEIGHT
Subspecies average

XXXIII
:

204.1 gr. (7.1

oz.

WHISKERED OWL

Otus trichopsis trichopsis (Wagler). Female. West slope of

Huachuca Peak, Cochise County, Arizona, May


included in the 1957 A.O.U. Clin k-list
XXXIV

TOTAL LENGTH

Chiricahua

Subspecies average

'34

218.5

mm.

ARIZONA WHISKERED

Otus trichopsis asperus

(8.6")

rg

Screech

[O.

Owl

(Brewster).

8,

Not

OWL

Male.

South slope of

Mountains, Cochise County, Arizona,

A.O.U. Number 373-I

1969.

May

10,

7,

Via***

C ys\jQj,.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

Screech

Otus

Nevada

Central

Owl and

near relatives are

its

still

considered as

asio subspecies.

and northwestern Utah to


Nevada

(Fallon)

the Inyo region of California between the Sierra

and Death Valley, onto the western slope of the Inyo


Mountains, southwestwardly to the southern San Joa-

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

quin Valley, and southwardly west of the deserts to

Named

northwestern Baja California.

this

Owl

is

(COLOR PLATE XXV)

Otus

kennicottii

asio

NAME AND

of

Original description:

(Elliot).

Elliot,

Proceedings of the

Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Volume

June-September (November
3,
based on a specimen from Sitka, Alaska.

ber

1867,

Robert Kennicott,

Owl (Otus

of

all

asio macfarlanei)

and considerably

Owl (Otus

Owl (Otus

or California Screech

the Screech

than MacFarlane's

asio

asio naev-

bendirei)

Although a western owl, Kennicott's Screech Owl has a


distinct rufous phase which occurs occasionally, but
most often it is a very dark bird, with a general colora-

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Scops kennicottii

slightly larger

is

larger than the Eastern Screech


ius)

SCIENTIFIC

Elliot after

and most northerly

subspecies. It

Screech

KENNICOTTS SCREECH OWL

by Daniel G.

the largest

Academy
19,
1,

tion of deep brown. It is among the darkest of all North


American Screech Owls, being considerably darker
brown than either MacFarlane's Screech Owl or the
California Screech Owl and much more heavily marked
and spotted than the Eastern Screech Owl, with the
spottings more buff than white.

Num1867)

WEIGHT
Subspecies average

235.6

gr. (8.3 oz.).

OTHER NAMES
owl

coastal screech

For

habitat

its

along the

TOTAL LENGTH

Pacific coast.

le

petit-duc

kennicottii

de

French-Canadian

name meaning "Kennicott's Little Duke."


little horned owl For its small-size similarity to
the Northwestern Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus lagophonus) which is sometimes called "The Grand Duke."
puget sound screech owl After part of its geo-

Subspecies average: 234.3

study

is

Subspecies average
After part of

its

is

601.

mm.

(23.7").

currently in progress toward the possibility

being

made

to establish

it

An

as a separate species

from Otus asio, with the new species to


be called Otus kennicottii, and with the numerous
Screech Owl subspecies of the West falling under this
entirely, apart

new

range.

of revising the nomenclature and status of this bird.


effort

(9.2").

WINGSPAN

graphical location.

Washington screech owl

mm.

classification.

At

this writing,

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average

181.4

mm.

(7.2").

however, Kennicott's

TAIL LENGTH
xxxv

flammulated owl

Otus flammeolus

flammeolus (Kaup). Male. Vicinity of


Mimbres, Grant County, New Mexico, April 1, 1887. A.O.U.

Subspecies average

99.3

mm.

(3.9").

Number 374
XXXVI

WESTERN BURROWING OWL

BEAK LENGTH

Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea (Bonaparte). Male. Four miles


southwest of Oshkosh, Garden County, Nebraska, February
19 14.

A.O.U. Number 378

2,

Subspecies average: 18.5

Southern Calif ornia / Kennicott's Screech

Owl

mm.

(0.7")

'35

dark cinnamon buff. The sooty-brown upperparts are


mottled and streaked with deep Vandyke brown to
black and the scapular streaks and spottings on

wing edges range from pale buff

deep

to

the

The

buff.

underparts are quite heavily streaked, barred, and some-

what mottled with a brown so very deep


virtually black. The plumage of legs and

in tone

it

is

has fine

feet

buff mottlings over a richer buff-brown ground color.

Individuals

from the more southerly portions of

its

range tend to be somewhat lighter in coloration, with


the gray tones
tinct

and

more apparent. The red phase


subdued cinnamon buff.

is

a dis-

attractive

GENERAL HABITS AND


CHARACTERISTICS
A

unaggressive Screech Owl. Otus asio


on occasion take up residence near farm
buildings and become surprisingly tame.
relatively

kennicottii will

kennicott's screech
Otus

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

owl

asio kennicottii (Elliot)

Seldom found
higher

in the

altitudes,

marked preference

VISION

large

oaks,

more densely

for

especially

prairie

when

forested areas or at

Owl

has highly developed day-

Owl

time vision and unlike most other Screech

which are almost

entirely nocturnal,

this

bird

races,
is

ground with scattered

these

trees

close to streams, lakes, or the ocean.

Kennicott's Screech

Owl shows

Screech

Kennicott's

densely leaved maples and oaks for


occasionally rest for the day in thick

are

Though
its

young

relatively
it

roost,

favors
it

will

firs.

fre-

quently seen actively on the hunt on cloudy days.

VOICE
Unexpectedly, considering
to the other races of Screech
cott's

Screech

Owl

and tremulous than


races. Its calls are

autumn than

is

its

FOOD
large size as

considerably

more high-pitched

common among the


much more commonly
is

in spring

compared

Owls, the voice of Kenniother western

heard during

and summer.

Primarily an eater of rodents (especially mice)


insects,

Kennicott's Screech

Owl

also

and

shows a peculiar

and caterpillars. It frequently eats


and earthworms and, especially in spring when
there are young to feed, it will attack and kill many
varieties of birds, including even ducks now and then.
taste for ants, beetles,

crayfish

Some

poultry, too,

is

killed

during

this season,

but in

such cases the owl normally eats only the head of the
prey. In

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

one case a Kennicott's Screech Owl

one of the bantams. Bird-killing activity


however, almost nonexistent when the owl has no

of the breast of

Ground coloration of upperparts is a rather deep


tawny brown and that of the underparts tends to be a
'3*

killed six

bantam hens and a golden pheasant over a


two-day period, eating only the heads of each and part

full-grown

Screech

is,

nestlings to feed.

Owl

OTHER NAME

NEST AND NESTING HABITS


Otus

asio kennicottii likes a natural

oak tree or dead

tively isolated

fir

hollow in a rela-

stub, with the hole

le petit-duc de macfarlane French-Canadian


name meaning "MacFarlane's Little Duke."

being from 10 to 15 feet in height and the hollow itself


six or eight inches deep. Unlike most

being at least
other Screech

keep

its

Owl

races,

it

nesting hollow neat

makes a concerted
and clean.

effort to

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Owl only slightly smaller


Owl (Otus asio kennicottii)

This quite large Screech


than Kennicott's Screech

was named by William Brewster

EGGS

Farlane.

Its

after

R.

Mac-

R.

general coloration ranges from a normal

dark brown to a dark, slaty gray brown, though never

From two

to five eggs are laid;

usually four, often

and only very rarely five. The


egg are most often laid between April 7 and May 15
and, based on the measurements of 33 eggs, average
three, infrequently two,

mm.

37.8

(1.5") in length by 32.0

mm

(1.3") in width.

quite as dark as Kennicott's


searchers

Screech Owl.

contend, as a matter of

still

fact,

Some reMac-

that

Farlane's Screech Owl is merely an intergrade form


between Kennicott's Screech Owl and the California
Screech Owl (Otus asio bendirei) It is indeed simi.

lar in color to the latter,

larger
asio

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS
The incubating female seems always
turbance on the nest
ally

lethargic at best.

is

She

to

much

larger, as

it

is

also

and darker than the Eastern Screech Owl (Otus

naevius)

Its

beak, surprisingly,

is

Owl and even

than Kennicott's Screech


that of the Eastern Screech

wear

to

markedly sleepy expression, and her reaction

but

much

smaller

smaller than

Owl.

dis-

WEIGHT

will usu-

allow herself to be freely handled, and her greatest

Subspecies average: 227.4

reaction seems to be merely to close her eyes tightly.

TOTAL LENGTH

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

Subspecies average: 228.4

From

southeastern

Alaska

(Situk

gr. (8.0 oz.

mm.

(9.0")

Juneau),

River,

southward through coastal British Columbia and western Washington to the Columbia River Valley
side,

Clatsop County,

(Sea-

WINGSPAN

Oregon, and Kalama, Cowlitz

County, Washington). Occasionally strays as far north-

westward

Subspecies average: 585.7

as Sitka, Alaska.

MACFARLANE'S SCREECH OWL

mm.

(23.1"

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 177.8

mm.

(7.0").

(COLOR PLATE XXVI)


TAIL LENGTH
SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

Subspecies average

97.6

mm.

(3.9")

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus
tion:

asio

macfarlanei

Megascops

Volume

8,

asio

Number

2,

(Brewster). Original descrip-

macfarlanei Brewster,

BEAK LENGTH

The Auk,

April 1891, page 140; based on a

specimen from Fort Walla Walla, Washington.

Subspecies average:

MacFarlane's Screech Owl

14.

mm.

(0.6")

'37

scapulars having creamy to buff-colored stripes. Under-

pays are numerously crosslined with black, and these


are bisected by rather heavy dark-brown shaft
streaks. There is usually a slight mottling of duskiness
on the generally buff-colored plumage of legs and feet.
lines

HABITAT
Tends to keep pretty much to the arid lower river
and seldom moves very far up the mountain
slopes. It has never been recorded above an elevation
of 4.000 feet. Shows a preference for timber fringe
areas, especially where these wooded borderlines are adplains

jacent to densely brush-covered lower slopes or grassy


valleys.

FOOD
Although

it

is

known

other birds up to the

to

domestic pigeons and

kill

this

is

normally

food

is

primarily

size of a flicker,

only a springtime manifestation and

its

rodents and insects. This subspecies shows more of a

preference for frogs

particularly

tree frogs

and

and whitefish up to about eight inches


than do most Screech Owl races.
trout

MACFARLANE
Otus

SCREECH OWL

both

in length

asio macfarlanei 'Brewster)

COURTSHIP
MacFarlane's Screech Owl normally begins courting

VOICE
Not uncommonly,
seems to
leaving
rests

human

its

this

in very late

owl tends to mutter

ears a rather petulant

roost in the evening

and

while hunting. This muttering

spersed with rather distinct


rated at

first

calls,

is

way

in

what

prior to

at intervals as

it

Owl
Owl

the notes clearly sepa-

evening immediately after sunset for about a month


prior to and during the mating season, but generally
silent

Since

but becoming more rapid and closer to-

deeper in tone than that of the Eastern Screech


and even more mournful. MacFarlane's Screech
voices a long series of quite doleful notes each

becomes

NEST

sometimes inter-

gether toward the end until they merge into a sort of


trill

when incubation

Februarv or earlv March.

it

is

flicker holes,

too large an owl for most woodpecker


its

preference

for natural

is

and

hollows, es-

pecially in willows or cottonwoods along a watercourse.


It

does not care for a cavity located lower than 10 feet

above the ground, and the nest


as

60

is

quite often as high

feet.

begins.

EGGS
Three

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

38

but usually four or

five,

Eggs are normally laid between March 26 and May 7.


Based on the measurements of 39 eggs, the average egg

Upperparts are generally brownish gray to dark sooty


brown, with black shaft streaks and edges of wing and
i

to six eggs are laid,

with an interval of 48 to 72 hours between layings.

Screech

size

is

width.

Owl

37.6

mm.

(1.5") in length by 31.9

mm.

(1.3") in

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


From

the interior of southern British

Columbia

Sica-

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 173.3

mous), through eastern Washington, eastern Oregon,


and western Montana, west of the Continental Divide,
Shasta County), northern
to northeastern California

mm.

(6.8").

TAIL LENGTH

Nevada (northern Washoe County) and southern Idaho


(Cassia County
.

Subspecies average

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCREECH OWL

89.0

mm.

(3.5").

BEAK LENGTH

{COLOR PLATE XXVII)


Subspecies average

SCIENTIFIC

Otus asio maxwelliae (Ridgway). Original descripScops asio maxnelliae Ridgway, Proceedings of
the L'. S. Xational Museum, Volume 3. 1880. page 191,
Xumber 402-c: based on a specimen from the vicinity
of Denver, Colorado.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
named by Robert
Maxwell, the noted taxi-

This rather large Screech Owl,

M.

A.

dermist and hunter of Boulder, Colorado,


coloration

than

other

races. Especially light

is

lighter in

more northerly Screech

specimens are

among

Owl

(0.7").

Owl (Otus

Although one extremely light-colored red-phase bird


was once taken, this has been deemed an aberration
and the Rocky Mountain Screech Owl is rated as a
monochromatic form in the grav phase. The upperparts
range from buffy brown gray to decidedly ash gray,
with narrow streaks and vague mottlings of blackish
brown. The underparts are almost unmarked white or
buff white on lower breast and belly and narrowly
barred in dark-brown crosslines on upper breast, sides,
and flanks. The white streaks on the scapulars and
wing edges are large and may show a faint trace of
buffiness.

the lightest

and most faintly marked of all races of Otus asio. The


browns are generally paler, the whites purer, and in
some specimens the underparts greatly predominate in
white or very pale buff, especially on the lower breast
and belly. It is somewhat larger than the Eastern
Screech Owl Otus asio naevius) though smaller than
MacFarlane's Screech

mm.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

tion:

after Mrs.

16.8

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

Ridgway

asio macfarlanei)

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


Prefers

well-wooded

creek

foothills,
and
Rocky Mountains

bottoms,

plains along the easterly foot of the

and, unlike the majority of Screech

Owl

forms, enjoys

roosting on branches in heavy tree foliage during the

warmer months, although


tree hollows

it

generally roosts in natural

during the winter.

WEIGHT
Subspecies average: 219.7

gr.

7.7 oz.)

FOOD
Primarily frogs, mice, crayfish, and some

fish.

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average

223.5

mm.

8.8").

NEST
Most often

WINGSPAN

occasion

dense
Subspecies average: 558.8

mm.

'22.0")

but on
an abandoned magpie nest in
bordering slow-moving or stationary

in a natural cavity of a large tree,

will

willows

nest

in

water.

Rocky Mountain Screech Owl

39

TEXAS SCREECH OWL

COLOR PLATE
SCIENTIFIC

XXVIII)

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus

Original

(Cassin).

mccallii

asio

description:

Scops McCallii Cassin. Illustrated Birds of California,


Texas, etc., Part 6
September 12), 1854, P a 2^ 180;
based on a specimen from the Lower Rio Grande
Texas.

Valley,
lu,

Mt ^ascops

Former

scientific

names: Scops McCal-

asio mccallii.

OTHER NAMES
owl After Colonel George A. McCally.
whom it was named by John Cassin.
western mottled owl For its geographic location
mcxally's

ornithologist, for

and the pattern of markings on its plumage.


tecolotito chillon de tejas Mexican-Indian
name meaning '"Texas Screech Owl."

ROCKY MOUNTAIN* SCREECH OWL


Otus asio maxuelliae

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

Ridgway)

Larger than the Southern Screech


asio)

Owl Otus asio naeiius) It is listed as a


monochromatic subspecies in the gray phase, but un-

EGGS
a

minimum

monly

five.

of three to a

maximum

Occasionally there will be

what more elongated


Screech

Owl

The

of seven.

eggs, the average size

54

by 30.2

mm.

six eggs,

those

of

mm.

.4"

re-

corded and are currently under investigation. This owl


very coarsely mottled and the lighter markings are
most conspicuous. The ground coloration is a buffy dark

is

crav.

other

on the measurements

36.3

is

but only

eggs tend to be some-

shape than

in

subspecies. Based

authenticated reports of red-phase birds have been

Usually there are three or four eggs, but not uncomvery rarely are there seven.

asio

but slightly smaller and paler than the Eastern

Screech

From

Owl (Otus

of

in length

WEIGHT

(1.2") in width.

Subspecies average: 181. 7

gr. (6.4 oz.)

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

TOTAL LENGTH
Southeastern
to central

Montana and western South Dakota

Colorado along the

east slope of the

Mountains: may range as far northward

Rocky

as central

Subspecies average

189.6

mm.

(7.5").

or

even northern Montana and adjacent plains (probably


extending into

much

tana

the

east

of

of the northern portion of

mountains)

southern Saskatchewan
to

also

Eastend,

extending

Regina)

Monfrom

southward

Douglas County, (Colorado, and probably westward

through southern
140

'

Wyoming

to northeastern

Utah.
S,

reech

Study of the
S<

I- re

Owl

Automcris

flight

maneuverability of the Rocky Mountain

Otus asio maxwelliae)


io).

X<>te

in

widely spread

pursuit of an Io

to promote braking action as pre) is


approaches point of snatching moth with talons.

wings

Owl

moth

and cupped
neared and owl

rectrices

gray-buff ground

The

color.

shaft

and

streaks

cross-

barrings on the underparts are sharply in contrast with


the pale-gray to gray-buff

ground coloration.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


JUVENILE
plumage with the exception of primaries and
is barred or banded with grayish or whitish

All

rectrices

and the black

streaks are absent.

HABITAT
Otus asio mccallii most prefers willow creek bottoms
and somewhat more open mesquite plains.

NEST
The nesting holes abandoned) of golden-fronted
woodpeckers are very often used, as are natural cavities
in

hardwood

trees.

used as nesting

TEXAS SCREECH OWI.


Otus

Holes in cactus are rarely,

if

ever,

sites.

EGGS

asio mccallii (Cassin)

There are normally four eggs, but on occasion there


be as few as two or as many as five. Measurements

will

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average: 531.4

mm.

of 43 eggs give an average egg size of 33.5

long by 29.0

(20.9")

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average

150.

mm.

mm.

mm.

(1.3")

(1.1") wide.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


From southern Texas in Kinney. Bexar, Comal, and
Refugio counties, and the area of the lower Rio Grande

(5.9")-

River upstream to the vicinity of Del Rio. Texas, and

TAIL LENGTH

eastward from there to Comal County, then southward

Southward from the Texas range to central


south-central Tamaulipas (Forlnn

to the Gulf.

Subspecies average

mm.

84.5

Xuevo Leon and

(3.3").

Mexico, to the Gulf of Mexico.

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average:
the Texas Screech

15.2

Owl

is

mm.

(0.6").

PASADENA SCREECH OWL

The beak on

usually a pale green,

but

[COLOR PLATE XXIX)

sometimes shading into a very distinct turquoise.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT
On

the

dark and
142

upperparts
in

distinct

the

shaft

contrast to

streakings
the

arc

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus

quite

Otus

underlying light
<

Owl

asio

asio

quercinus Grinnell. Original description:

quercinus Grinnell,

The Auk, Volume

32,

Number

i. January 191 5. page 60; based on a specimen


from Pasadena. Los Angeles County. California.

OTHER NAMES
oak owl
and

After the

which

for

it

live

oak

was given

this

trees

owl favors

subspecific

its

name

of

quercinus by Dr. Joseph Grinnell.

tecolotito

Mexican-Indian

KNCiNKRO

chillon

name meaning "Live-Oak Screech Owl."

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The Pasadena Screech Owl. much

lighter gray than

the gray phase of the Eastern Screech

naeiius

is

fornia Screech

coloration

Owl

Otus

'

drab.

On

either

There

is

it

is

asic

its

genera]

more brown-

a lighter ashy-

the underparts the dark markings are quite

clearly outlined, but the

are

but

asio bendirei

Otus

like the Cali-

slightly lighter. Instead of the

is

coloration of the upperparts.

ish

Owl

probably most in appearance

ruddy margins on the markings

absent

entirely

a distinctive

only

or

though

slight

barely

suggested.

amount

of rufous

plumage around the facial rim and


There is some speculation that this
Otus
race intergrades with the Saguaro Screech Owl
coloration in the

on the ear

tufts.

PASADENA SCREECH OWL

asio gilmani)

Otus asio quercinus Grinnell

BEAK LENGTH

WEIGHT
Subspecies average: 216.3

gr.

Subspecies average: 15.0

7.6 oz.

227.3

mm.

Rarely,

^9.0").

if

ever, fewer

and again there

will

WINGSPAN
:

573.

mm.

common

is

clutch

than three eggs are

be as

four or

eggs gave an average egg

Subspecies average

0.6"

EGGS

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average

mm.

length by 30.2

mm.

many
five.

size

as six.

laid.

Now

but the most

Measurements of 46

of 35.8

mm.

1.4"

in

(1.2") in width.

^22.6").

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 167.6

mm.

''6.6").

California west of the Sierra

Nevada and west

of

the deserts, but excluding the northern coastal districts,


vicinity of Redding
from the Sacramento Valley
c
and Monterey Bay south to about Latitude 3o 3o'
North in coastal Baja California: and from Mount

Shasta in northernmost California southward along the

TAIL LENGTH

west slope o{ the Sierra

Nevada

to

southern California

west of the desert regions and then coastally to Baja


Subspecies average

80.8

mm.

^3.2").

California.

Texas iPasadcna Screech Out

143

the upperparts a deep blackish gray. It is both boldly


and densely marked with black on upperparts and
underparts, though individual specimens tend to become slightly paler in the more southerly reaches of its
range. The Guadalupe Screech Owl is fairly small, be-

ing not quite as large as Aiken's Screech


asio aikeni)

Owl

Otus

WEIGHT
Subspecies average: 19 1.2

gr.

'6.7 oz.)

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average

152.7

mm.

(6.0").

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average

GLADALCPE SCREECH OWL


Otus

asio suttoni

480.7

mm.

(i8.g"i

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

Moore
Subspecies average

152.0

mm.

6.0").

GUADALUPE SCREECH OWL


TAIL LENGTH

COLOR PLATE XXX)

Subspecies average

SCIENTIFIC

73.6

mm.

(2.9").

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

BEAK LENGTH
Otus
asio

asio suttoni

Moore. Original description: Otus

suttoni Moore.

Proceedings of the Biological So-

Washington, 1941 page 154: based on a specimen from Portezuelo. Hidalgo. Mexico.

ciety of

Subspecies average:

Sutton's screech owl Honorary name after bird


and ornithologist, George Miksch Sutton.

(0.5").

The beak

is

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

OTHER NAME
artist

mm.

13.4

black.

As noted, birds

in

the

more southerly parts of the


Durango areas of Mexico,

range, in the Chiricahua and


are

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

much

oration

paler in color, almost approaching the col-

cincraceus)

This

is

the darkest of

all

Otus ano

ground coloration of the underparts


1

jj.

races,

with the

heavy gray and


Screei h

Mexican Screech Owl (Otus asio


and there is only a small region where a

the

of
,

color overlap tends to occur

Mountain

Owl

this

in southeastern Arizona.

being at Chiricahua

WEIGHT

HABITAT
High-altitude pifion and oak: low-altitude mesquite,
willow,

Subspecies average: 225.6 gr.

(7.9 oz.

and greasewood.

TOTAL LENGTH
EGGS
Subspecies average

Xo

data are available on egg

would

they

probably

smaller,

slightly

than

be

relatively

those

of

mm.

225.1

(8.9";

but

sizes for this race,

though

similar,

Mexican Screech

the

Owl.

WINGSPAN
Subspecies average

574.3

mm.

(22.6").

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Chiefly in the central portion of the Central Plateau

Mexico from Hidalgo northwest through Queretaro


to Durango, the Big Bend area of Texas, southeast
corner of Arizona at Guadalupe Canyon, and Las

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

of

New

Cruces.

Subspecies average: 183.9

mm.

(7.3").

Mexico.

TAIL LENGTH

NEBRASKA SCREECH OWL

Subspecies average: 96.8

mm.

(3.8")

[COLOR PLATE XXXI)

SCIENTIFIC

BEAK LENGTH

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus
Otus
ton
gust
at

(o.

7"

swenki Oberholser. Journal of the Washing-

Academy
15,

mm.

swenki Oberholser. Original description:

asio

asio

Subspecies average: 17.9

of Sciences,

Volume

27,

Number

8,

Au-

FOOD

1937. page 354; based on a specimen taken

Chadron, Dawes County, Nebraska,

at

an elevation
Grasshoppers, along with some other insects, com-

of 3,450 feet.

prise

about half

making up most

this

owl's

of the

with mice and frogs

diet,

remainder.

few birds are

taken during the nesting season.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The Nebraska Screech Owl, named by H. C. Oberin honor of ornithologist M. H. Swenk, is a

NEST

holser

dichromatic

race

both color phases than


I

Otus

asio

more subdued

but considerably

naevius)

is

the

fairly

surpasses the Eastern Screech

Eastern
large

Owl

in

quite as large as MacFarlane's Screech

Owl

Screech

Screech

in

Owl.

but

it

is

not

Owl (Otus

asio

size

macfarlanei)

It

Owl

is

not

uncommon

nesting behind

find

the Nebraska

outbuilding, or derelict home, but

Screech

more often the

and roost will be in old flicker holes


and willows along creek valleys.

Guadalupe Xebraska Screech Owl


;

to

the loose siding of an old barn,

in

nest

cottonwoods

'45

YUMA SCREECH OWL


COLOR PLATE XXXII)

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus

asio

yumancnsis Miller and

Original

Miller.

description: Otus asio yumanensis A. H. Miller

The Condor, Volume

Miller,

53,

Number

and

L.

July 26,

4,

page 172; from a specimen taken 10 miles west of


Pilot Knob, one mile south of the United States border
in Baja California.
1

95

1.

OTHER NAME
gila screech

owl

After part of

its

range along the

Gila River of Arizona.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
A

NEBRASKA SCREECH OWL


Otus

asio

generally pale ashy-colored Screech

Owl

with a

pinkish-sandy cast, but with individual specimens from

swenki Oberholser

the

more northerly portion of its range (in and near the


where Nevada, Arizona, and California meet)

area

having

much

sence of

it.

of the pinkish coloration or

less

Normally

it

upperparts with a sort of pinkish "blush."

Screech

Owl

is

very

nearly

Mexican Screech Owl (Otus

EGGS

its

markings

much

cases

have been reported of fewer than three

eggs being laid at an individual nesting.


casions there will be as
less rarely six.

many

Most often

the measurements of 31

37.0

mm.

(1.5")

in

as seven,

On

and only a

there are four or


eggs, the average

length

by 32.5

rare oc-

mm.

five.

egg

little

From
size

(1.3")

identical

The
medium

well

contrasted against the ventral

they

are

numerous,

ground color

they

in

The Yuma
size

are

of the underparts

to

the

but with

asio cineraceus)

narrower.

underparts are very thin,

No

an ab-

a clear cool gray on the

is

barrings across the

brownish, and not

quite

surface.

Although

diffuse

and therefore

into
less

the

con-

spicuous than in any other Otus asio subspecies.

is

in

width.

WEIGHT
Subspecies average: 164.7

gr.

(5.8 oz.).

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


From southern Manitoba (Winnipeg), eastern North
Dakota (Grafton, Hankinson), and western Minnesota
Roseau County), south to western and central Nebraska, western Kansas, and western Oklahoma (Ar-

they are also on breast plumage and rectrices, the latter so

nett).

numerous

14.6

Screech

variety of field study sketches of the

Yuma

Screech

Owl

{Otus asio yumanensis) near the mouth of the Gila River,


southwestern Arizona. Barrings on the wings are very fine, as
as to

Owl [Nebraska /Yuma]

make

the

tail

appear a

solid ashy gray.

75;

iff*

0*1

Wi1<

owl
-*//" Jokc/C

Toes

(\

vnrt\v\rl 5J ^

^r>^ ec^t^ eH j
"Jail UlrMl)
So !** e.r> se.

as To
i>

pf* U
H

<j\-a
<

i-

<

m
</^

'

*V

"M

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average

165.

mm.

(6.5").

TAIL LENGTH
Subspecies average: 88.9

mm.

(3.5")

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average:

17.

mm.

The beak

(0.7").

is

black.

FOOD
Almost exclusively mice,

lizards,

insects,

and

scor-

pions.

NEST
Normally an abandoned

YUMA SCREECH OWL

flicker

hole

in

saguaro

cactus.

Otus

asio

yumanensis Miller and Miller

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average

184.6

mm.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

(7 .3").

Lower Colorado River Valley and Gila River

Valley,

along with adjoining deserts in extreme southern

WINGSPAN

vada, southeastern California


ley),

Subspecies average

if8

554.0

mm.

(21.8").

southwestern

fornia,

Screech

Arizona,

(west to Coachella Val-

northwestern

and northwestern Sonora, Mexico.

Owl (Yuma)

Ne-

Baja

Cali-

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The Whiskered Owl, formerly classed as a Screech
similar in many aspects of general physical
is

Owl,

SPECIES

characteristics

and

size to

the Otus asio races, but there

are differences of note. (See the preliminary section on

Otus

[Linnaeus],

asio

The Screech Owls.) Decidedly

dichromatic in red phase and gray phase,

ORDER

it

is

some-

what like the Texas Screech Owl (Otus asio mccallii)


and Mexican Screech Owl (Otus asio cineraceus) but
smaller and quite a good bit darker, and with a heavier
and longer beak. The upperparts are much more
coarsely mottled, and there are large whitish spots on
the scapulars, greater wing coverts, and hindneck.
These spots, in fact, practically form a collar across
the lower hindneck. Most distinctively, the facial feathers are a variegated brown and white with greatly developed bristly tips, especially in the malar region, giving the suggestion of whiskers, from which its name is
derived. These "whiskers" are longer and more numerous than in the Otus asio races.

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

GENUS:

Otus Pennant

SPECIES:

trichopsis

(Wagler)

SUBSPECIES

Rank

over-all

in

size

among

eighteen

the

species:

Fourteenth.

trichopsis

WHISKERED OWL

(Wagler)

ARIZONA

(Brewster)

aspcrus

SHAPE AT REST

WHISKERED OWL
When
ear

them

WHISKERED OWL

backward

considerably,

tends to

not

quite

against the head, but rarely holding

flat

distinctly erect as

subspecies.

(COLOR PLATE XXXIII)

Owl

perched, the Whiskered

tufts

has

It

is

common among
an inclination

its

tilt

putting

them

the Screech

as

Owl

assume a more

to

crouched and forward-leaning position on a perch, not


unlike a modified version of the perching pose of one
of the goatsuckers.

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
SHAPE IN FLIGHT
Otus

trichopsis

scription:
3

(Wagler).

trichopsis

Scops trichopsis Wagler,

Isis

Original

de-

von Oken, Heft

(March), 1832, Column 276; based on a specimen

Otus trichopsis

trichopsis,

in

has

flight,

taken at an unspecified location in northern Mexico.

wings a shade narrower and shorter and the

Former names: Scops

quite as proportionately long.

trichopsis,

Megascops

trichopsis.

owl

Former common name

be-

fore revision.

tecolotito

name meaning

manchado
"Little

llanero

Spotted

Owl

Mexican-Indian
of

the

Grassy

before revision.

not

Ordinarily a fairly direct flight line

Former common name

is

taken, rather

low to the ground, with wings seeming to beat more


rapidly and with a somewhat greater effort than one

might expect.

Its

flight

is

almost

always

with a short glide, angling smoothly

Plains."

whiskered screech owl

tail

FLIGHT PATTERN

OTHER NAMES
spotted screech

slightly

greater sense of heaviness than the Screech Owls, with

perch

done
Whiskered Owl

it

in

has selected. There

normal

level flight,

is,

and

upward

however,
rarely

terminated

little

to

the

gliding

any hovering.
'49

Measurements have been based on


4 males and

measured

BEAK LENGTH

birds:

7 females.

Species average:

from

very

mm.

15.0

light

The beak

(0.6").

yellowish-green

ranges

very

to

dark

yellowish green-gray drab coloration.

Male

WEIGHT
Species average: 165.2

gr.

Male
(5.6 oz.)

l69-7 gr-

(5-9

7 -)

Minimum
Maximum

'45-6 gr.

(5.1

oz.)

155-8 gr.

(5.5

oz.)

1737

(6.1

oz.)

186.7 gr-

(6.5

oz.)

weight

Minimum
Maximum

13.4

Female

160.6 gr.

in

14.7

(5.8 oz.

Average

Rank

Average

Rank

mm.
mm.
mm.

16.2

beak length

in

Female

(0.6")

15.2

(0.5")

13.8

(0.6")

18.

among

(0.6")
(0.5")
(0.7")

the eighteen species: Elev-

enth.

gr.

among

the eighteen species: Thirteenth.

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,
Though

TOTAL LENGTH
mm.

Species average: 178.2

(7.0").

Male

Female

feet,

which

are a dingy sand color, can be clearly seen.

The

tarsus

fairly

is

176.8

mm.

(7.0")

1796 mm.

(7.1")

mm.

Minimum
Maximum

166.4

mm

(6.6")

(6.9")

in

180.5

mrn

mm.
mm.

(7.5")

still

Rank

total length

(7-

")

among

74.

190.6

the eighteen species: Thir-

teenth.

the toes are not heavily

distinctly bristled,

covered with plumage, and the scales of the

Average

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

long for the

size

of the bird, averaging 29.7

(1.8"), but the feet are

comparison

much

smaller and weaker

to the smallest races of

Otus

asio,

though

powerful enough to handle any prey the Whisk-

Owl

ered
slate

normally

takes.

The

are

talons

gray at the base, darkening to

jet

deep

black at the

tips.

WINGSPAN
mm.

Species average: 464.7

Male
Average

453-3 rnm.

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

375-3
478.3

Female
(17.9")

mm.
mm.

EYES AND VISION

(18.3").

476.0

(14.8")

476.0

(18.8")

509.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(18.8")
(20.1")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Four-

in

The

(18.8")

sis

trichopsis,

unlike

seen hunting in

teenth.

a bright yellow, with

are

irides

sometimes a

vague tinge of yellow-orange coloration. Daylight vision is quite as good as night vision, and Otus trichop-

days.

the

late

Screech

afternoons,

Owls,

is

frequently

even on very clear

perched owl has been seen

to

watch

intently

the flight of a locust 50 or 60 yards distant in the day-

time and arrow to the attack as soon as the insect

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


mm.

Species average: 138.8

(5.5").

Male

mm.
124.3 mm.
1378 mm.

Average

133.7

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

lands.

Female
(5.3")

143.8

(4.9")

136.2

(5.4")

148.8

mm.
mm.
mm.

EARS AND HEARING

(5.7")
(5.4")

(5.9")

wing length among the eighteen species: Thir-

in

teenth.

While the Whiskered Owl's hearing

the primary

TAIL LENGTH
Species average: 66.0

mm.

Male
Average

58.5

Minimum
Maximum

57.2

Rank

teenth.

'5

65.3

in tail

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

73.5

(2.3")

67.4

(2.6")

76.3

among

excellent,

of prey location.

cunicularia

FLORIDA BURROWING
floridana

Ridgway.

The

mm.
mm.
mm.

it

ears are not

OWL
Male.

Five

north of La Hollo, Hendry County, Florida, June

Female

(2.3")

means

XXXVI!

Speotyto
(2.6").

is

not be quite as superbly developed as in the more


highly nocturnal species. Nevertheless, hearing is still

may

\.o.l".

9,

miles
1971.

Number 378-A

(3.0")
xxxviii

(2.7")

(3.0")

Whitney's elf owl

Female with young.


Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi Cooper
South Bank of Rincon Crook. Pima County. Arizona. Octo.

the eighteen species: Four-

ber 22. [955,

Whiskered

Owl

AOL*. Number

381

..

^--*v

abnormally asymmetrical
so

many

in

and placement

size

as

in

other owl species.

and then one longer concluding

pause,

sound

is

The

note.

very similar to the sound produced by gently

blowing across the mouth of an empty pop

bottle.

EAR TUFTS. PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

MOLT
The
Otus

ear tufts are slightly narrower than those of the

and not

asio subspecies

When

dicularly to the head.


erect, they

appear

they are on occasion held

when

an-

each ear

tuft

to be single-pointed, but

more normal

gled back in the

perpen-

as often raised so

position,

with

size,

the

The

in

female a

bit

coloration

or

voice of the female bird

normally more high pitched and a

more

bit

is

harsh.

have

to

relatively

in

but no detectable difference

pattern of markings.

two distinct tips. The plumage is


and soft but can be tightened against
the body as a camouflaging behavior when the need
arises. (See Enemies and Defenses.) There is one annual molt of the adults which begins about mid-July
and is concluded by early November.
appears

difference

slight

larger,

loose

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


any

Little of

real value

the Whiskered Owl's

mens have been known


captivity: one of

VOICE

is

known

history.

life

of this aspect of

At

to live longer

two

least

speci-

than a decade

in

which was a fledgling when captured,

the other an adult.

Perhaps

most

the

distinctive

call

what nervous and rapidly delivered

is

series

some-

of

six

to

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

with usually a distinct emphasis on the

notes

eight

Otus

by

issued

trichopsis trichopsis, voiced by both sexes,

and sounding like whootzihoot-zihoot-whoot-WHOOT-iihoot. This seems to


be some sort of recognition call, normally given as the
note

next-to-last

sun

uttered

As

setting or shortly thereafter.

is

Another
syncopated

common

call

is

muted, musical, rather

run quickly together but with the

trill

dividual notes detectable and not very

tremulous wavering

call

the

of

much

like

in-

the

Owl

Eastern Screech

call,

evidently

first

uttered by the male

in a fairly deep voice and then echoed by the female


on a higher tonal level, is a slightly tremulous fournote lyrical delivery with emphasis on the first note
and sounding somewhat like WHOOO-hoo woooo-woo.

Along with
a

this call the birds, especially the

number of chuckling or clucking sounds.


More often heard in autumn than in

after

OOO

sunset,
,

which

is
is

soft

yet

rather

male, utter

many

the case with

Otus

asio, the

trichopsis appears to be

In

red phase.

of the dichromatic

sub-

gray phase of Otus trichopsis

much more common

than the

gray phase the upperparts are

this

very bold brownish gray, with a distinctly heavy mottled effect

(Otus asio naevius)

The mating

is

species of

oration.

and the

feathers fringed with a dusky col-

The ground

color of the underparts

grayish

is

white, boldly splashed with deep-gray shaft streakings

and multiple

parallel crossbars

on each feather; these


margin

crossbars cross the shafts but do not reach the

webs on either

of the
of

two

distinct lines,

side.

The

facial

rim

is

normally

the inner one very dark

brown

much lighter and ranging from


white. The facial rim is not as

or black, the outer one


spring,

far-earning

just

HOO-

issued in a cadence of three short notes,

buffy gray

to

gray

smoothly round as

in

most species and there tends

to

be

a distinct inward dip of the dark brown rim toward the


eye at about the mid-outer cheek area. Brownish-black

markings form something of a broken collar across the


throat and sides of the neck, this continuing in broken
XXXIX

TEXAS ELF OWL

white markings across the hindneck. In the red-phase

Micralhene uhitneyi idonea (Ridgway). Female. Vicinity of

bird,

Rio Grande City, Starr County, Texas, December u, 1939.


A.O.U. Number 381 -A

quite boldly

XL
Syctea scandiaca
Heights,

Linnaeus).

Cook County.

Number 376

SNOWY OWL
Illinois,

Male. Vicinity of Arlington

December

8,

1968.

A.O.U.

the upperparts are a dull-to-bright

marked with black

The underparts
boldly streaked. The

mottlings.

are a reddish

also

general

upperparts and underparts

is

rufous tone

and dusky
tawny gray,

shaft streaks

coloration

of

than in the red-phase birds of the Eastern Screech

Otus
Whiskered Owl

both

lighter but grayer in tone

Owl

asio naevius)

'5'

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

JUVENILE

In addition to falling prey to the Western Horned

In the gray phase, the upperparts are a general dull

brown,

gray

rather

mottled

indistinctly

may and with gray-white tips


The underparts are a dusky white and

with a murky
ers.

and barred
on the feaththe feathers

are broadly barred with slate brown. In the red-phase


bird, the juvenal

plumage

much

is

as in the adult red-

phase bird, but with the black streaking quite indistinct

and sometimes absent

in places.

The underparts

are a

very dingy chestnut buff which becomes deeper in tone

Owl, the Whiskered Owl

indistinct bars

Owl

(Asio otus sp.)

Tyto alba pratincola)

W hiskered

Owl is often plagued by extremely


heavy infestations of Mallophaga lice. This may occur
7

such degree that severe debilitation of the bird

to

and its survival


Undoubtedly the

ability

sults

trichopsis

in

lies

is

much

Otus trichopsis

greatest defense of

protective coloration. Its

its

perches quietly in

CHARACTERISTICS

the- trunk

trunk

sleeps

When
Strangely, Otus trichopsis trichopsis seems markedlydisinclined to perch or roost in any kind of pine trees,

even though

its

plumage camouflage resembles some

pine barks very closely.

much

It

white oak (Quercus arizonica)

and

and

roosting, but for nesting

prefers

as a place for tearing

apart and devouring larger prey.

seem

to care to

the Arizona

not only for perching

This owl does not

perch very high in any

normally

tree,

as

it

perching at night

often

it

tends to

move

plumage blends well with the bark

tree, so too

does

when

invisible.

away

farther

stance

with the
the limb
range,
limb.

the bird occasionally perches in the

more dense

when

Here again

tends to

foliage

finding a convenient limb only about a dozen feet off

of the outer branches.

the ground. Only on very rare occasions has

a crouched pose with the body leaning forward, as

up

seen to alight higher than 30 feet


far

more often

Whiskered Owl

temperament

15
is

feet

not

as are the

the

is

so

generally

Otus

in

uppermost

been

it

and

tree,

bird

sit

in
if

flight.

The

limit.

fierce

poised to take

it

it

As

roosting

of a

serve admirably as camouflage

it

it

even leaning against

becomes almost

it

from the trunk on a large limb and sit in


something like that of the nighthawk, parallel
branch with head held low and tail touching
so that in silhouette, even from very close
appears to be no more than a bulge on the
its

plumage

Arizona white oak on a low

the

branch close to
the

re-

decreased.

has such incredibly barklike patterning that

GENERAL HABITS AND

and,

Now

and again territorial affrays will take place with the


Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus acadicus) and in
such altercations, even though the Whiskered Owl is
the larger, it is usually the Saw-whet Owl that triumphs.
Not especially bothered by small-bird harassment,
the

on the upper breast and throat. Dusky,


crossed the flanks, sides, and breast.

Owl

the Barn

less often,

become

will also occasionally

the prey of the Long-eared

in

asio subspecies.

HUNTING METHODS AND CARRYING


OF PREY
The Whiskered Owl
some

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

likely

This

prey.

For the most part, areas of from scattered


heavy growths of deciduous

and

trees

to rather

Pine

are preferred.

an
enemy, the Western
Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus pallescens) which favors such habitats. While the sort of cover most favorfir

forests are scrupulously avoided, possibly in

effort to avoid the greatest natural

spot

and

prey,

upon, snatched up

and carried back


has just

left,

when

in

flight,

listen

detected,

in the talons

(usually)

is

and watch for


swooped

swiftly

almost without pause,

to the

same

tree

the bird

there to be swallowed whole or torn into

chunks for devouring.

up

prefers to perch in a tree near

patiently

When

larger insects are snatched

as often occurs,

they are carried in the

able

Whiskered Owl includes oak-scattered


and canyons, the species is rather
regulated by elevation
rarely venturing below

for

the

beak.

More

ried in

often than not, however, the prey

one foot back

is

car-

to a convenient perch.

slopes, glades, valleys,

tightly

an altitude of 4,000 feet or above 7,000 feet.


most abundant at elevations of between 5,500
6,500

feet.

In

such areas

it

roosts

primarily

It

is

in

the

some degree in junipers,


emory oaks, walnuts, mountain ash, and sycamores.
Arizona white oak, but also

152

to

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

and

Although mice and other small mammals make up a


certain portion of the Whiskered Owl's diet, by far

Whiskered

Owl

the greatest percentage


especially

nesting

during the

food

of

invertebrate

is

Otus

season.

trichopsis

shows a fondness for a diet of black

moths and

prey,

Small birds are rarely taken, even

insects.

beetles,

trichopsis

large

crickets,

grasshoppers and locusts,

praying

mantids, roaches, and cicadas. Large caterpillars, fleshy


or hairy, are eaten avidly, as are mole crickets and large

Such

beetle larvae.

Whisk-

insects are the staples of the

There seems

pecker.

such holes located

than

in the

a large branch or stub, rather

trunk of the tree

stub holes

or

be an especial preference for

to

in

not

are

although

itself;

available,

trunk

branch

if

cavity

will

Almost invariably the nest is located in a white


oak tree and normally from 10 to 20 feet above ground.
Usually there are some dried oak leaves in the bottom
suffice.

of the cavity, but

it

known whether

not

is

or not the

ered Owl's diet most of the year, but during the winter

owl

months when they are not so abundant, scorpions and


centipedes become important as prey.
Since so few vertebrate animals are ingested, there
is less of a need for regurgitation of numerous pellets
containing hair, bone, teeth, claws, and other such
materials, and thus the Whiskered Owl is nowhere near

best that they are the residue of the former occupant.

to

is

responsible for bringing these

relatively

deep hole

chances are

with the bottom

preferred,

is

in;

about 14 to 16 inches below the entry.

being the pellet-casting owl that most other species

are. Nevertheless, a certain

formed
tinous

are

pellets

of

bits

Such

insects.

quickly as they dry.

amount
mainly

cast,

stiff

of small

and poorly

containing

pellets

the

chi-

disintegrate

very

breeze will blow

them

apart.

Fecal wastes tend to be more liquid than are com-

monly seen among other owl species. They are generallystraight down below the small-branch perch
the bird alights on for that specific purpose, and they
are generally gray brown with some gray-green mardropped

blings of a

more

EGGS
X umber per nesting
more than four eggs are

Rarely
laid,

than

fewer

though

three

or

just as often three

as four.

Color

Pure, unblemished white.

Shape

Very

close to being globular:

never notably

ovoid.
viscous nature.

Quite smooth but without

Texture
Size

glossiness.

Smaller than the eggs of the Texas Screech

Owl (Otus

asio mccallii)

The average

the measurements of 13 eggs, was 32.9

COURTSHIP AND MATING

length by 27.3

mm.

(1.1") in width.

size,

mm.

based on
(1.3")

in

The extreme meas-

urements of these eggs were

Some

been done on the courtship activities of the Whiskered Owl, but hardly anything in respect to the actual mating. Courtship is not
interesting study has

erally similar.

among the Screech Owls, but is


The principal difference seems to be

the female

just

as

prolonged as

is

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

gen-

length:

33.7

length:

28.7

width:

31.6

mm.
mm.
mm.

width:

(1.3")
(1.1")
(1.2")
1.0")

that

about as vociferous as the male, and

makes as he woos
At sunset the birds begin calling back and forth,
and as twilight deepens they draw closer together, all
she will echo nearly every call he

her.

This

Interval of egg-laying
tain,

is

not

known

for cer-

but eggs are probably laid two or three days apart.

Egg-laying dates

normally between

Earliest, April 22; latest,

May

and

May

May

19;

9.

the while repeating at irregular intervals a rather harsh

note that sounds almost like the clanging note of a


heron.
call

This

scribed

then becomes interspersed with the

call

sounding

like

earlier.

WHOOO-hoo

See

Voice.

begin wandering great distances


peating these

Little

as

de-

in

early

spring,

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS

re-

they have located a receptive

calls until

unmated female.

iloooo-woo,

Young, unmated males

male-to-male rivalry has been

noted, even over territorv.

There has been no recorded instance of the male


bird aiding in incubation, although he provides food
for the

ANNUAL BROODS,

incubating female and remains very close at

roosting times while incubation

NEST,

male

NESTING HABITS

sits

a natural cavity or

Owl normally

abandoned hole

in progress.

The

fe-

with the greatest of reluctance and returning to them


very quickly

Single-brooded, the Whiskered

is

very closely on her eggs, leaving them only

nests in

of flicker or

wood-

when danger

have allowed themselves

is

past.

On

occasion females

to be lifted off the eggs with-

out protest.

Whiskered Owl

'53

MIGRATION
Not migratory.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
Probably of benefit because of insect-eating habits.

ARIZONA WHISKERED OWL


{COLOR PLATE XXXIV)

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Otus

trichopsis asperus (Brewster). Original descrip-

Megascops asperus Brewster, The Auk, Volume


i,
January 1888, page 87; based on a
specimen from El Carmen, Chihuahua, Mexico.
tion:
5,

Number

WHISKERED OWL
Otus trichopsis trichopsis (Wagler)

OTHER NAMES
TECOLOTITO MANCHADO DE BREWSTER

Mexican-In-

name meaning "Brewster's Little Spotted Owl."


whiskered screech owl Erroneously, as the same
name formerly applied to the Whiskered Owl (Otus
dian

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

trichopsis trichopsis)

CHARACTERISTICS
Very

little

concrete data have been gathered about

this aspect of the

what

little

Whiskered Owl's

has been recorded

resemble similar characteristics

life

cycle,

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

although

seems very closely to

among

the

Otus

Otus trichopsis asperus

asio

is

primarily located at higher

Otus trichopsis trichopsis, usually occurring only within a few hundred feet of the 7,000-

elevations than

subspecies.

foot altitude. It

is

somewhat

gray bird generally than

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

which
Primarily in a small portion of southeastern Arizona

and Huachuca moun-

bufhness

distinct
is

lacking

streakings of both

of
in

the

larger

and much darker

the Whiskered Owl. with a

is

plumage

Otus

around

trichopsis

the

face,

trichopsis.

back and breast are

much

The

bolder

The range extends southward

and more distinctive than are those of the Whiskered


Owl. The Arizona Whiskered Owl remarkably parallels
the Mexican Screech Owl (Otus asio cineraceus) in

Guatemala, and Honduras, though


not in Baja California. In Mexico, Chihuahua, Durango, Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, west to Michoacan,

and both that owl and the Saguaro Screech Owl


gilmani) in coloration, though it more
closely approximates the markings of the Whiskered

Jalisco, Nayarit.

Owl. There

in

the area of the Chiricahua

tains

at

elevations

of

from 4.000

usually below 6,500 feet.

through

*54

Mexico,

to

7,000

feet,

but

size,

(Otus asio

Whiskered

Owl

is

no known red phase.

WEIGHT
Subspecies average

166.1 gr. (5.8 oz.).

TOTAL LENGTH
Subspecies average: 184.2

mm.

(7-3")-

WINGSPAN
mm.

Subspecies average: 527.1

^20.8").

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 157.8

mm.

(6.2").

TAIL LENGTH
Subspecies average: 81.3

mm.

(3.2").

ARIZONA WHISKERED

OWL

Otus trichopsis asperus (Brewster)

BEAK LENGTH
Subspecies average: 15.4

mm.

(0.6")

VOICE
Quite similar to that of Otus trichopsis trichopsis
except that the female not infrequently issues a
short, whistling
like

sound which

rises at

NEST

brittle,

the end, sounding

kiEW! kiEW!

Much like Otus trichopsis trichopsis except that


woodpecker and flicker holes are much less often used,
the preference being for natural cavities in oak.

HABITAT AND ROOSTING


Evinces the same preference for deciduous
pecially the white oak, as does
sis,

Owl
and

but at higher elevations.


rarely ventures

prefers

times,

Otus trichopsis trichop-

below an elevation of 6,800

most abundant

es-

The Arizona Whiskered

7,000 feet or slightly more.

to 7,700 feet, but has

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


trees,

at elevations of

been known

It

feet

seems,

from 7,500

at

feet

to reach 8,100 feet.

mountains of southeastern Arizona (Baboand Santa Catalina Mountains to


the Chiricahua Mountains) and of northeastern Sonora, Chihuahua, and Durango, Mexico, south to
Nayarit (Sierra Madre) and San Luis Potosi (AlIn

the

quivari,

varez)

Arizona Whiskered

Parajito,

Owl

'55

owl

least screech

Same

for

Dwarf

scops owl Former Old World designation.


tecolotito de flamulas Mexican-Indian
meaning "Little Flame-colored Owl."

name

reasons

as

Screech Owl.

SPECIES

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

GENUS:

Otus Pennant

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
Quite a small owl having red- and gray-color phases,
with ear tufts that are distinctly rounded, very short,

and barely

visible

even when held

fully erect.

The

tufts

tend to give more of an impression of the head

SPECIES:

having a couple of points, rather than the bird being

flammeolus (Kaup)

"eared" as in the Otus asio races.

Owl

has longish wings and tiny

The Flammulated

feet.

Its

gentle-appearing dark-chocolate-colored

very soft and


give

eyes

the

owl a very appealing expression. Hardly larger than a

SUBSPECIES

sparrow

(though

slightly larger

brasilianum

FLAMMULATED

flammeolus (Kaup)

itself

dish

ridgwayi)

Its

running down

bars

phase and

its

is

only

V-shaped

distinctive

the

it

Owl (Glaucidium

scapulars

in

the

red-

gray

variegated rufous color pattern in the

red phase give

OWL

tends to look larger),

it

than the Ferruginous

it

warm ruddy

name results.
Rank in size among

look from which

its

the eighteen species: Fifteenth.

FLAMMULATED OWL
SHAPE AT REST AND IN FLIGHT

{COLOR PLATE XXXV]


When

perched it tends to resemble a very small


Owl, except for the distinctly modified ear

Screech

tends also to

tufts. It

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

groundward. In

Owl

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION

in Jardine's

less

more rapid
in

Contributions to Ornithology, 1852 (1853),

Hi; based on a specimen from an unnamed

FLIGHT PATTERN
rather

jerky type

OTHER NAMES

ings as

it

nervous,

of flight,

former

Because of

oration and the small

"The

first few moments


and angles toward the ground

in

Former name

after the

French-Canadian name mean-

Dwarf Duke."

Normal perching (left) and roosting right postures of the


Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus flammeolus) showing
the abundant and fine barrings and penciling* on the plumage,
especially of the breast and belly. The car tufts, unlike those
of Screech Owl subspecies, are tiny and often difficult to dis(

Former name when

with the Screech Owls.

Little

a high perch

done

size.

flammulated scops owl


Old World designation.
le petit-duc nain

left

is

after the bird has

After the red-phase col-

flammulated screech owl


classified

small size and

and sometimes actually

Screech Owls.

classification with the

flammulated dwarf owl

its

darting,

interspersed with occasional hover-

pauses to check for prey. Little gliding

except during the

dwarf screech owl

156

pointing

proportion to the body than do those of the Otus asio

ing

as the wingbeats are

distinct,

tail

resemblance to a Screech

subspecies.

locale in northern Mexico.

its

rather erect, with


the

and the wings themselves seem narrower and longer

Otus flammeolus flammeolus (Kaup). Original description: Scops (Megascops) flammeola "Licht" Kaup,
page

is

sit

flight

cern.

The

feet are not feathered.

siderable variety of coloration

Flammulated Owl

This species evinces a con-

and markings.

J
\M
^

5<-

V<V^

*ftff

*e sAr^

J)

\ Co1

00

7 /??7

sweeping curve. A shorter glide occurs with a slight


upswing just prior to alighting. Normal flight is on a

BEAK LENGTH

comparatively level plane.

Species average:

Measurements have been based on


6 males and 7 females.

13 birds

measured:

9.7

mm.

(0.4").

The beak

slate

is

black.

Male
Average

9.4

Minimum
Maximum

8.7

WEIGHT

Rank

in

mm.
mm.
mm.

10.5

Female
(0.4")

10.0

(0.3")

9.9

(0.4")

1.1

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.4")
(0.4")
(0.4")

beak length among the eighteen species:

Fif-

teenth.

Species average: 13

1.7 gr. (4.6 oz.).

Male
Average

126.3

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

in

gr-

3.6 gr.

143.4 g r

weight

Female

(44

oz.)

137.

gr.

(4.8 oz.)

(4.0 oz.)

122.4 g r

(4-3

oz -)

(5 oz -)

H9-3 g r

(5-2

oz.)

among

LEGS, FEET,

the eighteen species: Fourteenth.

The

a slaty gray in coloration and often with the faintest

The

tinge of yellow.

mm.

Species average: 165.5

(6.5").

157.3

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

173.6

(5.9")

163.6

(6.5")

188.7

among

total length

in

Female
(6.2")

mm.
mm.
mm.

entirely

muscles are strong and, for the

(6.8")

and rather
Leg and foot

talons are very sharp

and

curved,

well

long,

Male

mm.
1510 mm.
163.8 mm.

Average

relatively

but the feet are naked, with the toes

lightly feathered,

TOTAL LENGTH

Flammulated Owl are

the

of

legs

TALONS

black.

size of the bird,

it

has

a powerful grip.

(6.5")
(7.4")

the eighteen species: Six-

teenth.

EYES AND VISION

WINGSPAN

Otus flammeolus flammeolus,

only

the

small

owl

with dark-brown eyes, seems to have a very placid and


Species average:

4575 mm.
Male

(18.0").

is

Average

4526 mm.

(17.8")

Minimum
Maximum

379-1

mm.
mm.

(14.9")

Rank

in

462.9

friendly look

Female

(18.2")

462.3

450.7
501. 1

mm.
mm.
mm.

(18.2")

which can be deceiving,

since

the

bird

rather ferocious in the protection of nest and young.

The

eyes are large

and

(17.8")

Vision

adults.

as

brown

in the

good day or

quite

is

young

as in

but espe-

night,

(19-7")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Fifteenth.

cially

adapted

to

deep

twilight.

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


EARS AND HEARING

mm.

Species average: 134. 2

(5.3").

Male
Average

132.7

Minimum
Maximum
Rank

128.3

138.6

mm.
rnm.

mm.

Female
(5.2")
(5

")

(5.5")

135.6
130.8
1

45.

mm.
mm.
mm.

The

(5.2")
(5.7")

wing length among the eighteen species: Four-

in

auditory sense

is

extremely acute. Ear cavities

(5.3")

are
size,

and

this

capabilities.

The

teenth.

asymmetrical

lated

to

some degree

in

owl has well-developed

placement and
sound-location

Eyes and ears synchronize well

authors,

in hunting.

using binoculars to observe a

Owl perched

Flammu-

near the top of a conifer fully a

quarter mile away just after sunset, noted an instant

Species average: 61.6

mm.

(2.4").

Male
Average

61.0

Minimum
Maximum

57.8

Rank

in tail

teenth.

'58

62.9

mm.
mm.
mm.

length

Female

(2.4")

62.2

(2.3")

60.9

(2.5")

64.9

among

on the bird's part when the squeaking of a


mouse was simulated. With one quick jerk of the head
the gaze of the bird was directed at the source of the
sound. A second squeak was given, even more faintly,
and the owl immediately left its perch and arrowed
toward the sound. Only at the last moment, as the
authors flinched, did it veer off and take a perch in a
reaction

TAIL LENGTH

mm.
mm.
mm.

(2.5")
(2.4")
(2.6")

the eighteen species: Seven-

nearby

tree. It

remained there for a considerable while,

wholly unafraid.

Flammulated Owl

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

MOLT
The
less

points

on each

They tend

owl

is

peak

to

sharp

in

crown, but can be

the

of

side

laid practically fiat to the head.

giving

even the smallest

size of those of

subspecies of Otus asio.


little

more than rudimentary and

ear tufts are hardly

than a quarter the

The plumage

of this

There is no evident difference in coloration or markbetween the sexes, but the female is slightly the
larger bird and her voice is very dissimilar to the
ings

being much more highly pitched, quavering,


and with the underlying quality of a whine.

male's,

somewhat tighter than that of the Screech Owls,


more of an appearance of trimness to the bird.

There is one molt annually, beginning


and completed before November, and

at this time of

molting the bird tends to increase

calling.

its

mid-August

in

This

male birds, although the


not known.

especially true of the

cance of

this fact

is

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

is

signifi-

Captive birds have lived for thirteen years, and one


wild bird was recovered eight years after
as a fledgling.

where

this

There seems

species

is

to

be

little

it

was banded

nest mortality

concerned, and no incidence of

cannibalism has ever been recorded.

VOICE

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

The most commonly heard call of the Flammulated


Owl is a single, quite mellow-toned U'HOOOP repeated over long periods at about

five-

grace notes distinctly lower in

tone.

remarkably ventriloquial that

is

Though

it

is

it

This

call

is

so

virtually impossible

by following the sound of

to locate the bird

a rather low-toned call,

it

voice.

its

has far-carrying

and is a delight to hear. Occasionally it is


preceded by two rapidly issued low-er notes.
The mating call, on the other hand, is not at all
ventriloquial. It is uttered in two notes with the emphasis strongly on the second. This call, too, is voiced
over prolonged periods and tends to become monotonous. Higher pitched than the single note described
qualities

above,
the

sounds

it

note

first

is

like

whoo-WHOOOT.

not

given.

stages of courtship,

In

the

Occasionally

more advanced

the double-note call

broken at intervals with

sometimes

is

chuckling or chattering

soft

sounds.

Another

call

given primarily by the male but on oc-

by the female

sound,

not

unlike

is

the

kittenlike

of

call

MEEEeee-ooooo

Whitney's

Elf

Owl

When

disturbed,

especially

Flammulated Owl sometimes


sounding

little

shriek

lated in print but which,

The

it,

it

if

nesting,

the

female

gives vent to an outwhich cannot be emuhad greater volume be-

would be a most decidedly frightening sound.

male,

Most

if

when

disturbed, issues a single gruff

HOOT!

done in the spring, and the majority


of it by the male bird; but after a relatively quiet
summer, the birds tend to become more vocal at the
calling

is

time of the molt and the calling


eral

weeks after the molt has

this calling is

by the male bird.

is

one of the most


describe or

to

difficult of all

paint

insofar

markings are concerned. There

and

colors

is

as

North American
coloration and

great

variation

in

two color phases,

patterns, not only in the

but between individuals of the same color phase as


well.

The

differences between the actual color phases

are often extreme. For example, a red-phase bird

may

have a very distinctive cinnamon-red general coloration with

little

mottling or pattern (or sometimes with

a great deal of both), while the gray-phase bird

may

have no trace whatever of rufous tone, not even on the


V-shaped scapular markings. There seems to be an infor gray-phase birds to be more heavily
marked with dark mottling than among the red-phase

clination

but

birds,

this

is

no hard-and-fast

both phases on the underparts

broad and heavy

to

rule.

may

Markings of

vary from quite

surprisingly finely

drawn

pencil-

can be determined, the color and pattern


variations are not induced by sex, age, geographical

So

far as

location, or season.

The

only exceptions are that the

most decidedly red birds are from the more southerly


primarily in Guatemala
parts of the bird's range
but even there the gray-phase birds, as well as some
of the red-phase, cannot be distinguished from more

(Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi)

hind

Owls

ings.

casion

raged

This

to ten-second

the hoot sometimes followed by one or two

intervals,

may

northerly specimens.

Some

seem to tend distinctly toward melanism,


on the belly, but with all plumage being
very dark. Others will have almost a marbling effect
of silvery plumage intermingled with the gray or red.
Still others have a decidedly tawny aspect. Quite often
birds

especially

in

the

gray

phase,

even

when

rufous

coloration

is

continue for sev-

absent from most of the plumage, there will be a de-

most of

cidedly reddish coloration to that portion of the facial

finished. Again,

disks

immediately surrounding the

Flammulated Owl

eyes.

'59

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


much variation among
as among the adults, but

color phases

more coarse and regular barrings on

and
with somewhat

individuals

the back.

plumage

of the upperparts,

and gray-phase

of both red-phase

as

is

by the variegated

The plumage

wears.

JUVENILE
There

afforded

flage

bird

this

particular,

birds blends remark-

The markings

ably well with pine or oak bark.

of the

underparts blend extremely well with the trunk of the


white oak; so much so that when the bird is perched
close

the

to

trunk and

against the trunk,

below.

It

in

is,

fact,

becomes

it

makes a concerted

also

leaning

virtually

back

its

from
keep a

invisible

effort

branch or other obstruction between

GENERAL HABITS AND

in

itself

to

and an ob-

server.

CHARACTERISTICS
More
Owl is

or

reclusive in

less

habits, the

its

Flammulated

not often seen, even by trained observers,

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY

al-

though it frequently flies by day. Essentially a twilight


and nighttime hunter, it is most often observed as the
bird takes a perch high in a conifer prior to hunting
in the evening, or

during the early morning hours be-

fore sunrise.

As with the Whiskered Owl (Otus


a great deal of prey

sis)

in

a tree

snatches
it

slightly

more

devour

its

often the very perch


Flammulated

the

inclined to land,

when

it

it

attacks,

and

Owl. Prey seems

to be just as often carried in the

and

dense

cover close

thicket-type

to

open

relatively

to

prey on the spot than does the Whiskered

as in the talons,

Preference seems to be most pronounced

left

Owl seems

but has been observed as high as elevations of

if

10,000 feet.
for

perch

However,

eating.

ever seen at elevations lower than 3,000

Rarely
feet,

and the owl skims swiftly downward and


up in its talons while still in flight, carrying

to a convenient

for

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

it

trichopsis trichop-

spotted from a high perch

is

there

is

beak

some evidence that small

prey snatched up in the talons in

flight

may

be trans-

ferred to the beak almost immediately while flying.

areas at elevations of from 4,500 to 7,800 feet.

Otus flammeolus flammeolus

among deciduous

be found equally

will

or coniferous trees, although

it

avoids

ponderosa pine and areas of extensive forest

forests of

cuttings.

It

likes

forests

of spruce

and

fir

intermixing of aspen and Arizona white oak.


Pine

seem

trees,

to

with white oak a close second choice,

be the favored

settles for the

day on a

and the bird normally


if ever, a dead

roosts,

live

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS, WASTES

with some

limb (rarely,

Approximately 90 per cent of the Flammulated Owl's


annual diet consists of insects and other invertebrate
prey such as spiders, scorpions, and centipedes.

and has been known

surprising taste for ants

It

has a

to stand

limb) close to the trunk of the tree but only about a

on a small

quarter of the tree's height from the top.

then pluck up and swallow the insects as they come

roost in

emory oak, madrona, and dense

during the nesting season,

it

It will

pirion.

rarely roosts in

also

Except

any kind

of hollow.

anthill, scratch the surface

with

its

feet,

and

within reach. In addition to insects and other vertebrate

life,

however,

this

varieties, shrews, moles,

only, a

few small

owl

will

eat

mice of many

and, during the nesting season

birds.

Pellets are small

and poorly formed, largely made up


from insects. Fecal wastes
and dull grayish brown.

of bits of chitinous material

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


Horned Owls (Bubo
small

extent,

virginianus sp.)

Long-eared

Owls

(Asio

are relatively solid

and, to some
otus.

sp.)

are

COURTSHIP AND MATING

dangerous enemies. Because of the rather secretive habits

of this bird,

man

is

not as

much

a threat as he

is

The Flammulated Owl

can,

Very

however, become furious when aggravated at the

nest,

mating

with other owl species.

and there are cases on record where parent birds have


attacked humans about the face and neck with talons
and beak.
The greatest defense seems to be the superb camou160

and

little

is

known about

activities,

this bird's

courtship and

mainly because of the bird's shyness

seclusion. This

is

probably abetted by the fact that

while even though the owl becomes more vociferous

during

this

make

extremely

it

Flammulated Owl

season,

its

highly

ventriloquial

abilities

difficult to locate for observation.

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

NESTING HABITS
Single-brooded, Otus flammeolus flammeolus almost

always nests in a flicker hole in an aspen, oak, or pine.

an abandoned hole

If

own

its

not

is

from

forcefully evict a flicker

owl

the

available,

will

and

in-use nest

its

lay

What

eggs atop or beside those of the flicker.

known, although it is
young flickers are
eaten. The nest itself does not have to be very high in
the tree to satisfy this owl; holes anywhere from as
happens

low

eggs

those

to

supposed that

is

not

they hatch,

if

the

One

as 7 or 8 feet to as high as 25 feet are used.

female was observed nesting in a flicker hole 40 feet

On

above the ground in a pine stub.


if

a suitable hole

known

has been

is

rare occasions,

not available, the Flammulated

to nest in the holes of

Owl

bank swallows.

EGGS
Number

Two

per nesting

to five eggs are laid,

but

most commonly three or four.


Color

Usually pure white, but occasionally with a

faint creaminess.

From

Shape

almost globular to slightly ovate.

Very

Texture

finely

granulated and with some gloss-

FLAMMULATED OWL

iness.

Size

Just

Whitney's

about midway in

Owl

Elf

'

size

Micrathene

between those of

whitneyi

and the Mexican Screech Owl (Otus

On

Otus flammeolus flammeolus (Kaup'

whitneyi)

asio cineraceus)

the basis of 44 eggs measured, the average egg size

was 27.7
wide.

mm.

(1.1")

in

mm.

length by 23.6

0.9")

YOUNG AND FAMILY

The extremes were

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

length:

32.7

length:

26.4

width:

28.0

width:

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

21.6

CHARACTERISTICS

'1.3")
(1.0")

When

1.1")

egg-laying

of

^0.9")

Unknown,

but

probably

about two days.

Southern areas: earliest, May 6;


June 24; normally between May 18 and June 1.
Northern areas earliest, May 2
latest, July 2
nor-

Egg-laying dates
latest,

mally between June 4 and June

first

hatched, the owlets have flesh-colored feet

and beaks, but these darken within


babies

Interval

LIFE

are

six days.

covered with a rather dense,

The

tiny

snow-white

down. Because of restricted in-hole nesting, observation of nestling young is sketchy at best; but in their
first
full, imperfect plumage of autumn,
the young
birds have wings and tail similar to those of the adults.
Elsewhere they have transverse dusky gray-and-white

which are narrow on head and breast but


wide on belly and flanks. The facial disks are decidedly
ruddy in coloration and lores are usually somewhat
rufous, though the superciliaries are white, bordered

barrings

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS
Incubation probably is by the female entirely, and
though the exact term of incubation is not known, it

supposed to be about 25 days. The female sits tightly


on her eggs and will usually refuse to budge even if

with dusky gray.

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA

is

disturbed.

However,

the eggs, she

is

if

attempt

is

made

to

apt to deliver a most painful

lift

bite.

her off

Breeds from southern British Columbia (Kamloops),

Ketchum), and northern Colorado (Estes


southward
through the mountains (except near
Park),

Idaho

Flammulated Owl

161

the Pacific coast)

to southern California

MIGRATION

San Bernar-

dino Mountains; and the highlands of Mexico to the

Mexico (Chimalpa) and Veracruz (Las


and south to the Guatemalan highlands.

State of
gas

Winters chiefly south of the United

States

in

The Flammulated Owl

\'i-

of

the

Mexican and Guatemalan highlands, but also rarely


in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California and in the Guadalupe, Franklin, and Chisos

North American owls

ward movement
flocks

Almost

rin g in early

is

all

is

one of the more migratory

but, even at that, the south-

and never occurs

quite loose

migratory

autumn and

flight

is

in large

nocturnal, occur-

late spring,

mountains of the Trans-Pecos. Texas.

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE
Probably valuable as a destroyer of injurious insects
and, to a lesser extent, rodents.

162

Flammulated Owl

owl

gophf.r

Because

it

underground

lives

go-

as

phers do. and sometimes in reconditioned gopher holes.

ground owl

For

habit of living on and in the

its

ground.

owl

hill

SPECIES

mound

Because of the

of earth

the

at

entrance to the burrow, upon which the owl customarily stands

ORDER

STRIGIFORMES

FAMILY:

STRIGIDAE

watch.

la choi ette a terrier de l'ouest French-Canadian name meaning "Western Burrowing Owl."
lechlcilla llanera Mexican-Indian name meaning "The Little Barn Owl (or simply Owl") of the
Fields."

GENUS:

owl

prairie dog

Speotyto Gloger

Because of

SPECIES:

(Molina)

cunicularia

propensity for using

its

the burrows of the prairie dog for

its

own underground

and because of the erroneous

nesting

belief that

will

it

share such a hole with the prairie dog.

rattlesnake owl

SUBSPECIES

snakes, for

Because superstition has

that

it

underground burrow with rattlereasons to be explained. (See Enemies and

owl shares

the

its

Defenses.)

snake owl

Because

it

frequently

kills

and

eats

small snakes, and probably for the same reason

tunnel owl

Because

nests

it

at

the

end of an

underground tunnel.

OWL
FLORIDA

Ridgway

florid ana

is

often called rattlesnake owl.

WESTERN
BURROWING

hypugaea (Bonaparte)

it

BURROWING

OWL
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

WESTERN BURROWING OWL

The Speotyto

COLOR PLATE XXXVI)

cunicularia subspecies, including both

Owl

Burrowing

Western

the

(Speotyto

hypugaea) and the Florida Burrowing


cunicularia floridana
habitually resides

NAME AND

SCIENTIFIC

nal description:

Strix

Volume

Ornithology,

more heavily grassed

Bonaparte).

1825, page 72

(note)

on a specimen from the plains of the

Origi-

Piatt

based
River,

Nebraska.

Burrowing Owls.
Very distinctive
burrow,

before

its

stance

and

as

stands

it

this

swivels

facial disks are rather poorly developed.

its

one of the more comfor both the Western Burrowing Owl and

seems

the Florida

Burrowing Owl,

right stance.

is

its

derivation and

mean-

ing are unclear.

cuckoo owl

of

which has a decided cuckoolike

its

more

quality.

distinctive calls,
1

See Voice.)

Eastern

the

and

From one

on the small mound

its

mon names

this

favored by the

owl has a gangly, knock-kneed

ing a very rounded head,

Although

places.

head back and forth almost constantly


and. upon seeing anything of a suspicious or dangerous
nature, goes into a curious bobbing motion. A small,
generally darkish-sandy owl without ear tufts and hav-

OTHER NAMES
owl

open

areas, generally disliking the bare

or only lightly grassed sandy ground

It

billy

in very

hypugaea Bonaparte, American


i,

on the ground

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus flammeus) for


example, is a much larger owl and it inhabits much

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea

Speotyto

the only small owl species that

is

cunicularia

Owl

much

Screech

it

Owl

larger because
It

is

interesting to

is

only slightly larger than


asio

of

long legs and up-

its

one of the most

watch

of

but

(Otus

naevius)

easily observable

the owls of

North Amer-

ica.

Rank

Western Burrouing

in size

Owl

among

the eighteen species: Eleventh.

163

SHAPE AT REST

TOTAL LENGTH

The Western Burrowing Owl has an uncommonly


awkward appearance when standing on the ground or
on a fence post, but seems much less gangly when
perching on a telephone wire or low branch and crouch-

own

awkwardand the fact that


the bird stands with a seemingly abnormal erectness.
ing on
ness

its

Part of the illusion of

legs.

created by the very short

is

mm.

Species average: 24.1.4

(9.5").

Male

Female

Average

229.6

mm.

9.0")

253.2

Minimum
Maximum

212.9

mm

8.4")

225.8

mm.
mm.

267.9

mm.

(10.6")

284.5

mm

Rank

in total length

among

(10.0")
(

8.9")

(11.2")

the eighteen species: Elev-

tail

enth.

SHAPE IN FLIGHT
The wings

and narrow and cervery reminiscent of the wings of a sparrow hawk,

tainly

WINGSPAN

of this bird are long

because of the uncommonly short

on the shoulders

well couched

and the head


The wing tips

tail

in flight.

more sharply pointed than those of


most other North American owls and its body seems
considerably smaller in flight than when perched.
considerably

are

Just as

Average

577.6

Minimum
Maximum

558.9

Rank

markedly similar

that of the

to

get the impression that

and

irregular.

flight,

falcon.

It

is

though one might

it

is

591.5

mm.

(23.3")

(22.0")

5748 mm.

(23.7")

(23.5")

616.3

mm.

(24.3")

at

Minimum
Maximum

mm.
1750 mm.

a quite distinc-

enth.

usually fairly close to the ground

bo-2>

6.4").

Male
mrn (61")

Average

Rank

with

it

mm.

Species average: 163.4

the

compare

rate,

Female

(22.8")

wingspan among the eighteen species: Twelfth.

in

also

is

rather labored, jerky,

is

observers

woodcock. At any

flight of the

tive

Some

it

owl

this

little

strong, easy, powerful flight, even


first

of

flight

596.9

mm.
mm.
mm.

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH

outstretched wings bear a likeness to those

its

sparrow hawk, the

the

'23.0").

Male

FLIGHT PATTERN
of

mm.

Species average: 584.5

but with the similarity to the sparrow hawk lessened

147.5

Female
1

.5

(5.8")

160.2

(6.9")

184.3

mm.
mm.
mm.

(6.8")
(6.3")
(7.3")

wing length among the eighteen species: Elev-

in

and highly

maneuverable. Also in keeping with the sparrow hawk

image

it

bird does, frequently hover while

will, as that

scanning

ground below

the

makes rather

uncommonly

long,

for

prey.

low-level glides,

agile turns

It

frequently

TAIL LENGTH

interspersed with

and rapid wingbeats. At such

downward

wing, of taking a long

mally
level,

it

makes only short

flights

While norrelatively low

glide.

at

the powerful wingstrokes can carry

tances without

rest,

it

(3.2").

Male

82.6

mm.
mm.
mm.

tail

length

Average

76.3

Minimum
Maximum

73.4

great dis-

attested by the occasional

as

mm.

Species average: 80.8

times the wings will sometimes flap asynchronously. It

has the habit, after having caught an insect on the

Rank

re-

in

Female
(3.0")

85.3

(2.9")

82.3

(3.3")

89.1

among

the

mm.
mm.
mm.

(3.4")

(3.2")
(3.5")

eighteen

species:

Ifth.

portings of the owl alighting on the rigging or decks


of ships far out at sea.

Measurements have been based on 39 birds measured:


and 21 females.

18 males

BEAK LENGTH

WEIGHT

Species average:

13.9

mm.

(0.5").

The beak

is

a dull

but light grayish yellow.

Species average: 208.2

Female

Average

202.6 gr.

(7.1

oz.)

213.9

Minimum
Maximum

180.5

^6.3

oz.)

194-9 S r

212.0 gr.

Rank
164

in

weight

gr.

among

!? r -

(7-5 oz

(6-8 oz.)

Average

13.5

Minimum
Maximum

12.5

222.7 S r ^7-8 oz.)


the eighteen species: Eleventh.

(7.4 oz.)

Female

Male

gr. (7.3 oz. ).

Male

Burrowing Owl

Rank
tet

in

nth.

14.0

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.5")

14.3

(0.5")

(0.6")

15.3

;.-,

mm.
mm.
mm.

(0.6")
(0.5")
(0.6")

beak length among the eighteen species: Thir-

TALONS

LEGS, FEET,

winter. This begins in mid-February

and

lasts for

about

one month.

Very long legs for the


somewhat the appearance

of this bird,

size

Barn Owl (Tyto alba


in the body and a

of the

but rather stubbier

pratincola)

more knock-kneed and gangly

good

bit

pect.

The

imparting

are lightly feathered with short,

legs

immaculate plumage and


though with small, very

the

toes

almost

are

bristly feathers

more

fine,

tarsus

is

like sparse

repertoire of calls

its

is

nowhere nearly

Barred Owls (Strix varia

ied as that of the

mm.

as long as the

middle

(1.9"), scantily feathered in

and almost bare behind. Where scales of legs and


can
be seen, they are from dull gray or yellowish
feet
gray to horn-colored. The feet are not especially powerfront

them are of a rather soft and


mellow nature. One of its more common calls, in fact,
is responsible for its nickname of Cuckoo Owl
a deep,

melodious
the

COO-COO-O-O-O

not unlike the call of

European cuckoo. Generally voiced while the owl


its burrow mound, this song may be con-

perched on

tinued for several hours at a time.

though not exactly


sounding

livered,

OOO.

This

though not

The

lemon yellow and vision is


excellent, probably even better on cloudy days or at
twilight than on a dark night, since this owl does a
considerable amount of diurnal and crepuscular hunting.

to

It

irides are

is

likely,

that vision

is

hearing in the location of prey for

equally important
this species.

asymmetrical in

placement, but not pronouncedly


is

acute,

hear the

so.

The

size

auditory sense

and observers have

stated that the bird can

grasshopper at well over

through the rustling of

great

deal

of

prey

Coo-COO-OOO COO COO-

like:

similar to that of the road runner,

is

The

is

located

sounds something

call

TO OO -whit-tit-tit,

When

and

flight of a beetle or

one hundred yards.

is

softly de-

as penetrating in character.

TICKA-tit-tit
slightly

more

Owl

often en-

TOOO-u hitTWEEECHIKIT-CHIKIT-CHIT CHIKIT-CHIKIT and. less


TWEEE, TICKAoften,
with
TWEEE-ticka-tit

EARS AND HEARING


are

little

to,

on their own burrow mounds nearby. The calls are


somewhat harsher and more abrupt. Normally issued
at an even, conversational pace, they can become emphatic and irregular if the bird becomes excited or
tit-tit

cavities

similar

is

song which

gages in a sort of conversation with other owls perched

alarmed.

Ear

is

In addition, the Western Burrowing

a bright

too.

call

It

the courtship

like,

voiced by the male only and

EYES AND VISION

the

differ-

ent calls and most of

is

ful in their grip.

as var-

sp.),

Western Burrowing Owl does have a number of

more than twice

averaging 47.2

toe,

While

bare,

hair than plumage.

The

VOICE

in general as-

TWEEEE

tit-tit.

badly alarmed, there

the bird disappears into

KAK! KAK! KAK!

its

If.

like:

interspersed with a

is

a cry given just before

burrow

however,

a
it

raucous

KAK!

nearby

flies

to

burrow mound or fence post, the call modifies in flight


and becomes much less harsh, sounding like Kl'KKUK-KUK-KUK! and this may degenerate into a
,

grasses.

continuous rapid rattling noise.

Beak

when

and

snappings

the bird

is

hissings

disturbed at the nest,

and adults have a most

EAR TUFTS, PLUMAGE, ANNUAL

fensive call

issued

disturbing or

The head

of the

with no trace of ear


to the body,

Burrowing Owl is very rounded,


tufts. Plumage is reasonably tight

though tending

to

at

entering

sound remarkably

like

snake. (See Enemies

when
when perched
plumage is much

not

are

interesting

times
the

uncommon

but both young

and unusual de-

when an
mouth of

intruder begins
the

burrow

the angry buzzing of a rattle-

and Defenses.)

be fluffed slightly

standing on the ground and even more so

on a wire or branch. In

flight

the

body than that of the Screech Owls, thus


imparting a more streamlined appearance. All adult
birds have one complete annual molt which begins in
late July or early August and is completed by the end
of September or early October. While it is evidently
not an annual trait of the species as a whole, numerous individual birds have been observed to undergo
another molt, primarily of body feathers only, late in

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES:
SIZE, COLORATION, VOICE

closer to the

There

is

very

little

difference in size on the whole,

although on very close measurement the female is just


barely the larger. As nearly as can be determined, there
is

no difference

in coloration

between the sexes and no

distinguishable difference in vocal characteristics.

Western Burrowing

Owl

16-

MORTALITY AND LONGEVITY


Because Speotyto cunicularia
cies,

it

more prone

is

which

do

normally

not

nibalism

tree-nesting

owls.

and badgers make


onslaughts against eggs and nestlings. Canferrets,

not a notable infant-mortality factor except

is

during times of famine, but

in

recent years mortality

and even among adult

the nest

in

from many predators

molest

Skunks, weasels, large snakes,


significant

a ground-nesting spe-

is

to attack

birds

has sharply

man

increased because of the extensive use by

and upper breast are buff, barred with narrow dark


brown, the bars sometimes merging at the sides and
continuing as a dark area behind the light buffy plumage of the ear region. The center of the breast is more
sparsely barred, with

barring sometimes verv in-

this

The

definite

or even

absent.

coverts,

and

plumage are usually unmarked me-

dium buff
paling

of

leg

to

bufTy

light

colors

all

has

belly,

Some

white.

been

thighs,

undertail

slight

observed

general

during

late

spring and summer.

of bi-

sulphides to poison ground squirrels and other rodent

Eating rodents that have ingested such poisons

pests.

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:

subsequently cause the death of the owl too. either

will

directly or

through such malfunction of bodily

that the owl can

ties

no longer function

as

must

it

order to survive. In such a case, starvation

activi-

is

JUVENILE

in

usually

Wings and

the result.

Numerous

captive specimens have lived for well over

and band recoveries indicate that some wild


birds live nearly as long. Large clutches of eggs laid
by this species help to some degree in offsetting a
higher rate of infant mortality than most other North
American owl species suffer.

tail

are identical to those of the adult

but the crown, hindneck, and back are mainly

birds,

brown with spotting absent. Underparts are


unmarked light buff in the center, shading to a

buffy gray

a decade,

plain,

deeper brownish buff toward the

band a

solid

sides,

with the throat

deeper brown.

GENERAL HABITS AND


CHARACTERISTICS

COLORATION AND MARKINGS:


ADULT

Although most actively on the move from about the


period of just before sunset until

Generally a speckled, dark sandy appearance at a


distance, with distinctive

narrow barring on the throat

and upper breast. More specifically, the upperparts are


generally brown with buff to buffy-white spots. These
spots are very small on the crown and mingle with
streakings

slight

spots

of

the same.

On

become more elongated oval

larger.

The

hindneck the

the

in

shape and slightly

on the wing

largest of the spots are

coverts,

back and shoulders, and these are mainly roundish


shape.

The

in

secondaries have similar spottings, but these

are arranged in four or five regular transverse series.

Larger whitish spots occur on the outer webs of the

becoming most apparent on the three or

primaries,

four

longest

quills.

The

are

rectrices

transversed

by

four (occasionally five or six) rather narrow and some-

what

irregular

with a vague

bands of

medium

narrowly tipped with


superciliaries are

the

dull

light

grayish

buff brown. All


light

buff

to

buff,
tail

suffused
quills

brown white and the

are

disks

sides of the

lores

Sometimes they

night.

head are narrowly and


light

buffy

coloration

The
more

often

from

with

just

their

heads

observed perched on their burrow mounds in the early


morning hours and from midafternoon to late afternoon. Their actions on these mounds are most distinctive and very interesting. They stand quite erect with
little body movement, but with the head almost continuously moving slowly from side to side as they scan
their surroundings. Anything noted that is out of the
ordinary causes an immediate reaction. The bird will
stand staring gravely and almost regally at the disturbance for a moment, and then it will suddenly bow
with

sense

of

courtliness,

recover

its

erect

pose

and begin rolling (or, more rarely, jerking"!


head about in a strange and rather comical manner
while uttering its alarm cry. (See Voice.) This may
quickly,
its

A narrow line of intermingled black


and buff across the upper throat is evident. The throat

AMERICAN

HAWK OWL

Surnia ulula caparoch (Muller). Male. Vicinity of Okanagan


Landing,
\.(

.1

British

Columbia,

Canada,

November

\.

1913.

Number 377-A

the

chin area and malar region to behind the lower half


of the ear region.

sit

are

indistinctly streaked

extends

will

these

day or

the

protruding from the burrow, but most often they are

XI. I

are a slightly deeper sandy buff.

with buff over deeper brown. Whitish or

commonly)

166

owls can be seen at almost any time of

same color but with each feather black-shafted.

Facial

darkness,

The

white.

buff

full

XIII

ROi

KV MOUNTAIN PYGMY OWL

Glaucidium gnoma pinacola Nelson. Male. Bear Creek near


Priesl Lake. Bonner County, Idaho, October 26, 1931. A.O.U.

Number 379

Burrowing Owl

'

/97c

*~<

be repeated several times or more, along with some

half-opened

with

gesticulation

At

wings.

bowings are so low that the breast

times

the

on

practically

is

the ground. If the danger appears to be approaching,


the bird will usually

a short distance to another

fly

burrow mound, a cattle-shed roof peak, or a fence


post, and perform the same grave bowings again. Less
often

simply disappear into the burrow.

will

it

danger

of a

is

more

severe nature,

the

If

calling will be-

its

come more alarmed, and immediately after it flies off,


one or two or even more of these owls will emerge
from the burrow and similarly move off.
Speotyto

cunicularia

undoubtedly the most con-

is

tinuously gregarious owl species in North America. It

has a very peaceable disposition toward other Burrowing Owls, even outside the immediate family

among

trait

ground

prairie dogs or other

much

very

rare

the raptors. In years past the birds often

amid

lived in distinct colonies close to or

Owl

dislikes cultivated

colonies of

The Burrowing

squirrels.

ground, and so in-

creased agriculture with the resultant extermination of

many

burrow around will be used as


power lines, fence
wires, poles and fence posts, the Burrowing Owl never
perches to avoid detection. Concealment is invariably
threatens, the handiest

a haven.

often perches on

it

sought underground.

The Burrowing Owl

has the peculiar habit of collect-

and ends of items which attract its attention,


bringing them back to the burrow where they are scattered about equally on the ground surface near the entrance and also in both the tunnel and main chamber
of the burrow. Some of the items recorded in these odd
ing odds

collections include bits of charcoal, bird feathers, frag-

ments of colored rags, lost mittens, tufts of hair or hide


from decomposed winter-killed cattle, corncobs, fairsized chunks of bone, and other matter.
Although resident within their range and active all
winter, Burrowing Owls tend to remain secluded in
their burrows during especially bad weather and perch
outside or actively hunt only on the milder days.
Throughout their entire range they are relatively abundant, probably because of their mobility and adaptability.

of these rodents has caused a reduction in the

Burrowing

Owl

although

colonies,

toward gregariousness

still

exists

inclination

the

among them.

Scores

HABITAT AND ROOSTING

them once lived in close conjunction, but they now


reside in more scattered groups of four or five families

of

large as a dozen families.

or, less often, in colonies as

In winter particularly, these owls tend

communal groups

little

Though

of

An

within a single burrow.


tion with this

is

many

as

as

gather in

to

twenty birds

unusual habit in conjunc-

that they will store an

abundance of

Expansive,

treeless,

unbroken

prairies

and

virgin

plains are most preferred, but the bird shows a distinct

aversion to cultivated lands and almost equally to the

more
like

arid desert regions. Surprisingly, in view of


for cultivation,

the bird will sometimes

its

take

dis-

up

underground for communal subsistence during


periods of severe weather when prey is scarce or un-

residence well within city limits, roosting in sidewalk

available.

house mice and

There are numerous strong superstitions and many


more erroneous beliefs in regard to the Burrowing Owl.
Foremost among such stories is that it coexists in the
same burrow with prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. To

in

food

the

contrary,

there

ever with either the

snake

is

no friendly relationship what-

is

mammal

an enemy which

search of Burrowing

Owl

or the reptile.

may

enter the

The

eggs or nestlings,

on the hunt for young prairie dogs or ground

The

rattle-

burrow

in

or while
squirrels.

when young, is prey for the Burrowing


Owl, and certainly the mammal, young or old, will not
prairie dog,

willingly associate with the owl.

when an owl and


the

prairie

same burrow,

XLIII

it

is

On

dog happen

moths and other large insects that have been attracted


by the glow. Such behavior, though, is far from common and most often the bird seeks wide-open places,
from sagebrush plains to extensive natural prairies, although it is found in scattered numbers in the lightly
timbered areas of California, from the western foothills
of the Sierras to the Pacific coast. Roosting (as opposed
to perching) is almost invariably done underground.
Perching, with some occasional light napping, occurs
primarily on burrow mounds, telephone wires and poles,

fence posts and fencing wires, on isolated cattle sheds,

to disappear into

and sometimes on a roadside billboard or the low


branch of a leafless bush or tree.

when danger

PYGMY OWL

Glaucidium gnoma californicum Sclater. Female. Vicinity of


Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, November 9, 19 13.
A.O.U. Number 379-A
XLIV

rats in alleys and vacant lots, or flying


nighthawk manner around arc lights to capture

the rare occasions

simply because

CALIFORNIA

drains during the day and emerging at night to catch

ARIZONA PYGMY

OWL

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES


After the
chattering

Glaucidium gnoma gnoma Wagler. Female. Vicinity of Bernardino, Cochise County, Arizona, October 22, 19 17. A.O.U.
Number 379-D

Wc stern

mound

initial

when

(see

it

grave bowings, head turnings, and


spies

an enemy from

its

burrow

General Habits and Characteristics), the

Burrowing Owl flies low and swiftly to the mound of


another burrow not far off. Here it mav stand and re-

Burrowing Owl

167

peat the bowing act and bob

way, or

it

may immediately

particularly severe threat of

munal group,

some

come from

most bowl one another over

an agitated

When

its

their

in

a com-

has pinpointed the source and

and

al-

to

get

anxiety
instant's

pause

uncanny accuracy

with

Upon

contact with

with an

While

this

hasten

off to

another burrow-

Where enemies

balance and

for

(if

uses

man is responsible for


many Burrowing Owls through
rodent control. Also, a great many are

burrow.

Natural

enemies

include

on the highways.

prey

weasels,

ferrets,

occasional

than to adult birds. In

passing,

will attack the

animal simultaneously and drive

often harassing

it

it

Owls
away,

unmercifully for fully one hundred

it

has no other choice, Speotyto cunicularia hy-

pugaea

attack

will

even man, with

an enemy,

con-

siderable ferocity. Uttering a shrill shrieking sound,


will roll over

onto

back and

its

accuracy and effectiveness with

strike

it

out with great

talons. If the bird

its

is

wounded, the shriek becomes a weird rattling sound


and the talons are used with surprising violence and
strength to inflict severe injury on the attacker.

Perhaps the most unusual and certainly one of the

most highly

mechanisms used by the


an intruder's attempt to enter, reach into, or dig up the
Burrowing Owl, both young and adult, is reserved for
burrow. At this time the bird can give an incredibly
accurate vocal mimicry of the buzzing rattle of the
diamondback rattlesnake. Few, if any, predators will
continue coming down the burrow and few men will
effective defensive

continue reaching in or digging

when this sound has


been given. Often the rattling is accompanied as well
by a hissing which is also reminiscent of a snake.

Owl

hypugaea

will

extent,

the

adult

Speotyto

prey.

watching and listening


it

for

will take a

rodents

cunicularia

and

insect

perch on some slight

and wait until a prey animal on the ground,


usually a mouse or ground squirrel, inadvertently be-

elevation

trays

168

its

own

to the

may

it

Only

if

take

underground

it

the prey

too large for

is

launch

in

itself

instant

to a height of 150 feet or

more without taking

off the insect.

At

will

this point

it

With

pursuit.

it

climb at a steep angle

will

go into a

gaze

its

relatively

it

overtakes the prey and grasps

There

talons.

the prey

is

is

it

in

mid-air with

then a brief spate of level

flight

its

while

being killed by the talons, followed by a

sometimes circular gliding as the dead prey


ferred to the beak.

Having accomplished

is

this,

trans-

the owl

itself with its own burrow, and


makes a long gliding approach on set wings.
At times the Burrowing Owl will circle casually
above a moving ground animal cow, deer, dog, fox. or
coyote
waiting to swoop down and snatch up any
mouse or other rodent or large insect the animal

turns adroitly, aligns

flushes.
is

In most cases

when

this occurs, the

prey animal

snatched up from the ground without pause, often

to the bafflement of the

been

animal which

may

itself

have

in pursuit of that very prey.

While most hunting is done during late afternoon


and twilight, the parent owls hunt virtually 24 hours
a day when there are young birds to feed, pausing only
at intervals to take brief naps.

SOME BURROWING OWL PREY

range back and forth across the prairie-

More commonly

back

it

rapid, irregular wingbeats

presence with a sound. Instantly the owl

Burrowing Owl

The Burrowing Owls

-especially the Florida

most

themselves to small prey

their

land,

with

fly

glances skyward and spies a large insect

will

it

HUNTING METHODS AND


CARRYING OF PREY
To some

to

steep dive, gliding during the last portion of the dive as

yards before giving up and returning to their burrow.


If

beak

Quite often when a mound-perched Western Bur-

rowing

the ferret or weasel, four or five adult Burrowing

its

to transport the carcass.

with enemies as fierce as

with

convenient carrying in the beak will the talons be used

mink, skunks, opossums, snakes, and armadillos though


most of these are more dangerous to eggs and young
fact,

the

wings

its

devour the animal there while perched

It will

for eating then or later.

catch

brief

kill

demise by snapping the vertebrae at the


nape. The owl will then pick up the dead animal, if not

use of poisons in

they

and

the

on the mound outside, or

by cars as

first

of devastating bites

series

the animal has not expired at once

the deaths of a great

killed

in

that

prop against the

as

tail

its

too large, in the beak and will

are concerned,

and

deeply

sink

occurring the owl spreads

is

the adult birds will wait until the young scurry under-

not far distant to take refuge there.

in

clutch usually penetrate the vital organs


prey.

flies

location,

talons

and

jerk,

ground, then administers a

fly

the

flesh,

on the mound to see what the danger is.


At times when the still-flightless young are on ground
surface near the burrow mouth and danger threatens,

ground and then themselves

precise

talons.

spasmodic

initial

takes to wing,

it

the

to

pounces with outstretched

alarm cry and

directions

all

burrow without even an

into the

in

sort occurs for

the sentinel bird issues

other owls will often

down

head

its

dive underground.

habitat;

reptiles

craw

often confine

amphibians such

as

moths, grasshoppers, beetles, and

found on the slope of the

all

the

mound

creatures

common

to

and salamanders,

such as small snakes and skinks, small

fish,

well-broken remains of

fish,

scorpions.

crabs,

The

shown here were

before the burrow of a nest-

ing pair of Florida Burrowing Owls.

Burrowing Owl

frogs

^ M
A'

fO^.
t*.*-

k^V

6\nc(

Ca ***4

(fWj

Green

FOOD, FEEDING HABITS. WASTES


The

Western Burrowing Owl

diet of the

widely

is

run

in

the

parent

eagerness.

bowling each

bird,

The parent

the

mice make up by far the majority of what it eats on an


annual basis, but pellet analysis has also shown that it

row, pespite their avidity, there

will eat the following::

enough

Grasshoppers, cicadas, locusts, black crick-

Insects
ets,

roaches, dragonflies, beetles of

moth and butterfly adults and larvae, mole


and Jerusalem crickets, praying mantids, water

larvae,
crickets

and

bugs,

kinds and their

all

others.

Additional

Scorpions,

invertebrates

and

centipedes

other myriapods, crayfish, snails, slugs, earthworms.

Minnows

Fish

other small

of

many varieties, suckers, carp, and


when they become marooned

especially

fish,

and amphibians

Reptiles

Lizards of

venomous
salamanders, and toads.

small snakes (but not


frogs,

Mammals

Banner-tailed

ground

squirrels

house

mice,

meadow

and house

young birds turn and run back

varieties,

horned toads,

young

prairie

dogs,

it

grasshopper

mice,

young

all

sparrows of

larks,

grosbeaks,

vireos,

own

to their

when

only in the nesting season

western

but

size,

the food

demands

of

remains of other Burrowing Owls in their stomachs, but

whether this is the result of direct-attack cannibalism


or the devouring of highway-killed owls is not known.

Some

succulent

the

fruits

and seeds are eaten,


the Tesajilla and

of

fruits

prey

Western Burrowing Owl

Large

prey

is

ripped

into

swallowing, the head always being eaten


in turn

hypugaea

cunicularia

perpetually hungry of the owls.


siderably

more than

available. Therefore,

its

chunks

first,

for

followed

it

one of the most

is

It

more

is

consume con-

will

own weight

than most other species. Even

prey daily,

in

persistently

when

littered

it

One burrow opened

and a ground

Young owls
nevertheless

that

wait

jo

flight

in

than

has taken wing.

bird

droppings are somewhat

Fecal

like short, twisted twigs of

charcoal.

Some aerial maneuverings occur on the part of the


male over the ground-perched female, but these are
usually brief and not especially spectacular in nature.
They

are

more

nature of circling

in the

When

spersed with gliding.

it

female and walks up beside her on a burrow


mound, she tends to move toward him and they stand
side

by side with shoulders touching for several minutes.

Then

the

interval

there follows a short

of

rubbing their

heads together. Actual copulation almost always occurs

underground,

but

there

walk

are

When

occasional

mound

off the

instances

of

takes place, the two

this

onto

ground

level

and copulation follows, swiftly accomplished.


lieved

that copulation

for

from several days

ing

Owl mates

for

is

is

be-

repeated several times daily

week.

to a

life,

It

but

if

The Western Burrow-

the

mate of one

is

killed,

the survivor will seek another.

ANNUAL BROODS,

NEST,

NESTING HABITS

is

two sparrows,

The Burrowing Owl

is

single-brooded, but will usu-

ally lay a second set of eggs

not yet able to

outside

inter-

the

will

squirrel.

are

flights

the male alights close to

if

burrow,

fly

keep

well

but

sharp

watch for parent birds returning with prey for them. At


sight of an adult approaching with prey, the young will
I

performed more often

for study yielded the

carcasses of 68 mice, one small rabbit,


rats,

is

while standing, usually occurring immediately after the

catches for de-

vouring at a later time, especially when bad weather

four

with pellets in various stages of decomposition.

on the hunt

not hungry

continue to hunt and store what prey

in the offing.

pellets are relatively small

its

by the viscera, then chunks of the actual meat.

Speotyto

fortunate

is

alone to devour

and are usually smooth and brown. They are regurgitated without any apparent difficulty anywhere the bird
happens to be, in the burrow or outside, and as a result
the main chamber and tunnel as well as the outside
area around the mouth of the burrow are usually well

birds normally

Burrowing Owl swallows

possible, the

whole.

left

about an inch long and three-fourths of an inch wide

above-ground mating.

prickly pear cacti.

Whenever

usually

is

many

the young owls are so extreme. There have been cases


where Burrowing Owls have been examined with the

Vegetable matter

first

it

mice,

such feeding on birds normally taking place

especially

claim

to

cottontail rabbits, chip-

meadowlarks, and other birds up


with

fighting over

little

COURTSHIP AND MATING

sandpipers,

least

is

rats as large as themselves,

Black terns, horned

species,

their

in peace.

munks, shrews, moles.


Birds

in

prey at any time; whichever young bird

dry and quite dark, looking

rats,

white-footed

voles, sage rats,

many

species),

in

mound, and
the same way;

they never seem to learn to stand and wait at the bur-

Defecation

drying pools of streams or ponds.

in rapidly

intercept

to

over

other

directly to the

flies

and what it eats usually depends upon what


happens to be available at any given time. Insects and
varied

manner

a comical hop-and-flutter

and

if

the

sometimes even a third laying

also destroyed. If a second or

are normally smaller than the

The

Burrowing Owl

nest itself

is

if

first

is

destroyed,

the second set

third set is laid,

is

the eggs

first.

invariably underground in an en-

chamber

larged

end of a tunnel which may have

at the

been constructed by the owl

may have been

mammal which
own

burrow

the

more likely,
dog or other

far

itself or,

of a prairie

the owl has enlarged or modified for

The burrow entrance

its

somewhat

oval-

shaped, about six inches by four or five inches.

The

use.

is

usually

minimum of five inches


often as much as eight inches, though
Although the hole may sometimes go
tunnel

is

downward

often angles diagonally

for

in

diameter and

usually about

six.

down,

straight

two or three

it

feet

before leveling off and continuing for another five or six

chamber. Tunnel lengths tend

feet to the nest

greatly,

much

and though

nesting
in

some birds a tunnel may be

for

as eighteen or twenty feet, for others

mere four or

chamber

many

from entry

five feet

to vary

it

may

chamber

be a

to nest. Close to the

the tunnel begins angling upward,

cases the

as

will

itself

and

be only ten or

twelve inches below ground. Sometimes the tunnel will

make

a sharply angled turn

at other times

it

will follow

a sort of U-curve for ten or twelve feet and the nesting

chamber

moved

liberately

Even
is

cubated. Yet, hatching

chamber

nesting

eight inches to as

and about
chamber to

The

nest

to

six
its

much

usually

is

Color

Pure white

flea

somewhat domed

floor

always pretty disreputable. In addition to

is

in

considerable

may be

there

quantities

a layer of

of
as

it

bottom of the den. With

dried

deep

as

The

cattle

to bring in
also brings

dung

until

two inches on the

this material,

along with

bits

of bone, cloth, grasses, pellet debris,

and other material,


the nest more often than not has an extremely unpleasant odor and practically without exception is infested with fleas.

it

in-

ioo per cent

eggs are often stained with

Shape

Usually a rounded oval but frequently very

nearly globular.

Texture

Quite variable. At times they can be very

smooth shelled;

other times they

at

But they are either

granulated.

The

other within a single clutch.


glossy;

more

so

than

all

may

be heavily

one way or the

eggs are always very

any other North American owl

in

species.

Size
Roughly about the size of pigeon eggs, a
measurement of 42 eggs yielded the averages of 32.9
mm. (1.3") in length and 27.3 mm. (i-i") in width.

Extremes included

Maximum
Minimum
Maximum
Minimum

length:

33-1

length:

28.4

width:

28.0

width

24.8

Interval of egg-laying

the strange odds

that

can be effectively

sometimes, white with just the

or,

the

roof.

and ends the owl finds


see General Habits and Characteristics), it

all

of

formation.

them

excrement.

from a minimum of

from the

all

of

nearly always

is

faintest tinge of bluish.

as eighteen inches in diameter

eight inches

number

successful.

hole.

The

how

understand

difficult to

horseshoe

a sort of

into

there are often such a

so,

be within a couple of feet of the entry

will

mm.
mm.
mm.
mm.

(1.3")
(1.1")
(1.1")

(1.0")

While two eggs may be

laid

on the same day, the interval is more often at least 36


hours between layings and sometimes as much as 72
hours apart.

Egg-laying dates

Northern area (Dakotas)

April 22; latest, July 18; normally between

earliest,

May

and

June
Middle area (Kansas/Colorado) earliest, March 29;
normally between May 14 and June 6.
latest July 1
Western area 'California) earliest, March 20; latest,
June 17; normally between April 14 and May 2.
16.

Western Burrowing Owl is improving the exburrow or constructing its own, which it may do

If the

isting

on rare occasions,

it

will loosen the dirt of the

tunnel

INCUBATION AND
BROODING CHARACTERISTICS

and feet and then kick this dirt


backward, gradually moving it toward the mouth of the
burrow and then kicking it outside, in much the way a
walls with both beak

chicken will scratch in the


raised

mound

of

in of nest-bed material,

The

This results in the well-

around the entry hole. Both


at the digging and the bringing-

earth

male and female work


owl.

soil.

when such

is

introduced by the

preference seems to be for level ground for the

hole, but this

is

not a prerequisite, since nesting burrows

are often located on slopes.

Incubation

is

almost

equally

divided

parent birds and there are times on a

when

basis
side

by

both birds are brooding at the

side.

However,

term of incubation

is

have stated

as short a time as 21
it is

egg, the

Some

days, but

either 28 or 29 days.

YOUNG AND FAMILY

LIFE

CHARACTERISTICS

S umber

per nesting Normally at least six eggs are


and sometimes as many as twelve. Seven, eight, or
nine eggs seem to be the most common-sized clutches.
These eggs are usually laid in a single layer, but de-

not begin

fifth

not accurately established.

the consensus seems to be that

EGGS

regular

same time,

may

since incubation

until the laying of the third, fourth, or

authorities

between the
fairly

laid

Newly hatched
primarily

Western Burrowing

Owl

on

the

birds

are very scantily feathered

main feather

tracts

with

soft,

'7'

DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA


Breed from southern interior British Columbia (Okanagan
southern Alberta
Munson
Saskatchewan
(Livelong; Rush Lake; Nipawin), and central southern
Manitoba (Kildonan), south through eastern Washingi

ton and

Oregon (Rogue River Valley) and California


Guadalupe Island), east-

(including coastal islands and

ward

to the eastern border of the Great Plains in


Minnesota (Swift and Martin counties), northwestern

Iowa (Paton), central Kansas (Sedgwick County),


Oklahoma, central Texas (Bonham; Austin), and
Louisiana (Baton Rouge ), southward to at least central
Mexico, but southernmost extremity of breeding range

May

has not been definitely established.

include Baja

California.

Winters over

much

of the breeding range except in

and Great

the northernmost Great Basin

In what migration actually occurs,

southern

Louisiana,

southern

it

Plains regions.

will

move

into

and

the

Mississippi,

western panhandle of Florida, and southward through


southern Mexico and western Central America to west-

Panama

ern

(Chiriqui), Chile,

and Argentina.

Accidental in Indiana, Michigan, southern Ontario,

New

New

Hampshire, Massachusetts,

York, and Vir-

ginia.

WESTERN BURROWING OWL

MIGRATION

Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea (Bonaparte)

Migrational to some extent, though not at


regular annual basis.

Most

birds

in

the

all

central

on a
and

southern portions of the breeding range are year-round

Northern birds make a

residents.

southward

in

midautumn,

movement

definite

migrating

at

night

only.

Generally speaking, birds located southward of a line

down which

short gray-white

fairly

darker at the

is

base, but so sparse that the bare skin

shows through,

even after the juvenile plumage has begun sprouting.

By about
plumage appears on

from Oregon

to

northern Kansas do not migrate

though, oddly enough, the owl


northeastern Arizona from

is

said to be absent

November through

al-

from

April.

the sixth to eighth day. the first soft juvenile

feather
until,

This

tracts.

wings,

and the principal


and broadens

tail,

gradually

spreads

by the fourth week, the young bird

distinctive

juvenal plumage

first

Markings: Juvenile)
August. At
the contour

this

which

time there

plumage

is

(see

is

worn until about early


begun a complete molt of

sides, scapulars,

The young

to first-winter

and wing

birds are

still

Because of the enormous numbers of rodents and


eaten by Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea, it is

is

plumage, beginning

By the time this


molt is completed in mid-September, the young birds are
virtually indistinguishable from adults.

on the

ECONOMIC INFLUENCE

well clad in

Coloration and

coverts.

flightless

when they

insects

ranked as the second most economically beneficial owl


of North America, surpassed only by the Barn Owl
(Tyto alba pratincola)

first

and they tend to gather in a circular


formation on the mound around the hole, ready at an
instant's notice to tumble back into the hole if danger
leave the burrow,

threatens or to rush to meet a parent bird approaching

with food. They are most comical in their actions and

ing

very interesting to watch.

its

172

variety of attitudes

Owl
burrow

Burrowing Owl

and posturingS

of the Florida

(Speotyto cunicularia floridana)


in

De Soto County,

Florida.

at

the

Burrow-

mouth

of

i-o'i^

/.e^^.

I/O

1
-]

*.#.

BURROWING OWL

FLORIDA

Florida Burrowing

Owl

distinctly undulative

(COLOR PLATE XXXVII)

considerably

is

not

less

direct

and

as strongly so as that of the

pileated woodpecker, but with

more expansive wanderings.

more

and

dips

rises

and

does not glide as often

It

or for as long distances as does Speotyto cunicularia

hypugaea, although

SCIENTIFIC

NAME AND

for prey location. Rarely will

or

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION
Speotyto cunicularia ftoridana Ridgway. Original description: Speotyto cunicularia var. Floridana

American Sportsman, Volume

4,

Number

yards in one

fifty

from the mound

manner
more than forty

does hover in a similar

it

it

Most

flight.

in front of its

for

fly

when

often,

burrow,

it

startled

will fly in a

semicircular pattern, returning to another burrow per-

haps twenty yards from

its

own.

Ridgway,
(n.s.

14

No.

40), July 4, 1874, page 216; based on a specimen taken

Manatee County,

16 miles east of Sarasota Bay,

WEIGHT

Florida.

In recent years there has been considerable discussion

concerning the possibility of reclassifying


species distinct in

cunicularia

tyto

its

own

subspecies,

the

since

this

owl as a

Subspecies average

186.7 gr. (6.5 oz.]

than as a Speo-

right, rather

differences

are

quite pronounced. Should such a change in the classi-

made, the new name proposed

fication be

would be Speotyto

TOTAL LENGTH

for the species

floridana.

Subspecies average:

222.6

mm.

(8.8")

nearly

an

inch shorter than the Western Burrowing Owl.

OTHER NAMES
cattle

owl

Because

its

WINGSPAN

habitat in Florida coincides

with beef-producing ranches and

it is

often seen close to

mm.

Subspecies average: 529.6

cattle.

palmetto owl

Since

it

often nests in open areas

to 590.6

mm.

(20.9")

as

compared

(23.3") for Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea.

adjacent to extensive growths of low palmetto.

sandhill owl Because of the mound of sand it deand stands upon at the entrance to its burrow.

posits

INDIVIDUAL WING LENGTH


Subspecies average: 157.7

mm.

(6.2").

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES
The upperparts
sandy-colored

less

of this owl are

much

darker and far

than those of any other form

TAIL LENGTH

of

Speotyto cunicularia, and the spots and general colora-

Subspecies average: 76.0

mm.

(3.0").

tion of the underparts are a dull white rather than buff-

colored.

The

only distinct buffiness of the underparts

occurs on the thighs and underwing coverts, and these

brown toward

coverts are spotted with

The

the

than those

of Speotyto cunicularia hypugaea, but they are

feathered, the

less

beak

is

tail

and wings are

BEAK LENGTH

wing edges.

legs are not only considerably shorter

shorter,

much

and

the

Subspecies average: Slightly broader than that of the

Western Burrowing Owl, and longer, averaging

mm.

larger.

fo.6")

as

compared

to

13.9

mm.

(0.5")

15.5

for the

Western form.

FLIGHT PATTERN
LEGS
Burrowing Owl
differs in many respects from that of the Western Burrowing Owl. Where the flight of the latter bird is rela-

The

flight

tively level

'74

pattern

and

direct,

of

if

the

Florida

somewhat

irregular, that of the

The
naked.

What

than that

Burrowing Owl

mm. (1.5") and are nearly


plumage there is, is much shorter
worn bv the Western Burrowing Owl.
average 36.8

tarsi

little

GENERAL HABITS AND

VOICE
Essentially similar to Speotyto cunicularia

except that the alarm cry has a

and

much

higher quality

being a series of one long note

differs in structure,

WH1I1-

followed by two short notes and sounding like:

IIT whit-whit, or by two


a

stuttering

of

sort

following,

whoodle-oodle-oodle-ittt! ,

with

more emphatic. Sometimes


final

and

short notes to begin with

cry

the

as

in

is

whit-whit

note

final

this call

CHARACTERISTICS

hypugaca

slightly

given with the

Considerably more diurnal

hypugaca, but

cularia

still

than

Communal

afternoon and evening.

Speotyto

is

principally

active

cuni-

in

late

some extent, but


not as numerously as in the Western Burrowing Owl.
There arc rarely more than two to five families in a
colony, and often a bird will make an isolated nest and
to

establish only a single-family group.

note absent.

Generally speaking,

Another slightly different call from those given by


the Western form is a tremulous ploverlike cry often

more

therefore

voiced at sight of a distant, unfamiliar object.

easily

approached and observed.

inclined to take flight from

less

more

bend

inclined to

Burrowing Owl

Florida

the

is

than the western subspecies, and

easily frightened

less

its

burrow, but

It

is

much

far over after standing erect,

and

then run a dozen feet or more as a robin might, before


standing erect again.

SEXUAL DIFFERENCES: SIZE,


COLORATION, VOICE

and often
the

size,

little

or voice,

quite definitely

It

tends to preen

sexual difference in color, markings,

the Florida Burrowing

Owl

more deeply reddish on

the upperparts,

female

itself

more

extensively

mound,

stands on the burrow

it

gives the impression of being

Unlike the Western Burrowing Owl, which shows

remarkably

as

yet

it

actively alert than

Western Burrowing Owl. Curiously,

Florida

this

subspecies has the habit of gaping widely, as

if

yawn-

during the day.

ing, frequently

is

and

especially in the center of the back, than the male,

her spottings on breast and belly have more distinct

margins and are therefore


In

HABITAT

sharply defined.

the female appears generally darker, particu-

flight

larly

much more

Mostly prefers

on the upperparts, than the male.

expansive areas of sand and

treeless,

sparse grasses. Although often nesting within a dozen


feet of the standing

burrow

MORTALITY

which are
spotted here and there with small marshes, hammocks,
and interconnecting ponds.
line.

Considerably more cannibalistic in the nest than the

is

water of a lake, pond, or canal, the

always on a high point well above the waterespecially

It

likes

wide-open

tracts

Western Burrowing Owl. Because the young birds are


such voracious feeders, they will tax their parents to the

utmost to provide enough to reasonably


appetites.

If

one parent bird should be

satisfy

killed,

their

almost

ENEMIES AND DEFENSES

certainly the remaining parent will not be able to supply

enough food

for the young. In such a case, the larger

nestlings will fall

can and

will

sufficient

food

upon

the smallest

and devour

it.

This

continue until only one bird remains,


is

if

not provided by the parent.

The male

Florida Burrowing

away and stand


several

among

All upperparts are a rather


in the

in whitish.

mainder

male birds

The

throat

deep brownish

and both

themselves.

is

far

adult

The

manner
murmuring softly

to be a worried

females,

male, on the other hand, will