Western Screech Owl
Western screech owl jared hobbs-1
Rufous morph
Range North and Central America
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Strigiformes
Family Strigidae
Genus Megascops
Species Megascops kennicottii
Conservation Status
Least Concern

The Western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii), is a species of screech owl native to North and Central America, closely related to the European scops owl and the North American eastern screech owl. The scientific name commemorates the American naturalist Kennicott.


There are 9 recognized subspecies:

  • Megascops kennicottii aikeni (Brewster, 1891)
  • Megascops kennicottii bendirei (Brewster, 1882)
  • Megascops kennicottii cardonensis(Huey, 1926)
  • Megascops kennicottii kennicottii (Elliot, 1867)
  • Megascops kennicottii macfarlanei (Brewster, 1891)
  • Megascops kennicottii suttoni (R. T. Moore, 1941)
  • Megascops kennicottii vinaceus (Brewster, 1888)
  • Megascops kennicottii xantusi (Brewster, 1902)
  • Megascops kennicottii yumanensis (A. H. Miller & L. Miller, 1951)


Length averages 22 cm (8.7 in), wingspan 55 cm (22 in) and weight 143 g (5.0 oz). Weight ranges from 88 to 220 g (3.1 to 7.8 oz). Females are larger than males and Northern populations are notably larger than Southern races. Adults are larger than whiskered screech owls, with larger feet and more streaked plumage pattern.

There are several morphs: brown Pacific, grey Pacific, Great Plains, Mojave, and Mexican. All have either brown or dark gray plumage with streaking on the underparts. There is no red morph.

They have a round head with ear tufts, yellow eyes and a yellowish bill. Their appearance is quite similar to whiskered and eastern screech owls, so it's best to identify them by their calls. They were previously considered to be the same species as the eastern screech owl.

Distribution and habitat

The western screech owl is native to Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Its habitat includes temperate forests, subtropical and tropical montane forests, shrubland, desert, rural fields and even suburban parks and gardens.


The primary call is an accelerating series of short whistles at an increasing tempo or a short then long trill falling slightly at end. Other calls: barking and chuckling, similar to eastern. They also make a high pitched screech.


They are permanent residents of the northwest North and Central America, breeding in open woods, or mixed woods at forest edges. They often use holes in tree cavities or cactus that were excavated by woodpeckers.


These birds wait on perches to swoop down on unsuspecting prey; they may also catch insects in flight. They are active at dawn, night or near dusk, using their excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as mice or rats, birds, and large insects; however they are opportunistic predators, even taking small trout at night. Motion-activated cameras have photographed the birds eagerly scavenging a road-kill opossum. They have also been known to hunt Mallard ducks and cottontail rabbits, occasionally. Hatching of their young, usually four to five, is synchronized with the spring migration of birds; after migrants pass through screech-owls take fledglings of local birds.

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