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Living Sanibel: Eastern Screech Owl most likely to be heard, not seen

By Staff | Apr 13, 2016

The eastern screech owl in its red phase. PHOTO BY JUDD PATERSON

One of the smallest owls in North America, the eastern screech owl, has been known to consume one-third of its body weight every day. It has a distinct call, similar to a horse’s whinny, then descending in pitch to a drawn-out trill. Because of its size and its nocturnal habits, this owl, like the great horned owl, will more likely be heard and seldom, if ever, seen.

The eastern screech owl has two distinct color morphs: red and gray. The red phase seems to be more heat tolerant and is the color most often observed in South Florida. The screech owl’s broad diet consists of insects, spiders, crayfish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and small birds, including starlings and songbirds.

This small owl nests in hollow cavities and dense foliage, as well as manmade bird boxes. Although it is fundamentally monogamous, the male owl has been known to take up with two females and remain in this avian mnage trois throughout its lifetime. The screech owl suffers from loss of habitat and pesticide poisoning.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.