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Western Screech-Owl Otus kennicottii


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Western Screech-Owl
credit: Anon

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Strigidae, Owls view all from this family

Description ADULT Either brown overall or gray-brown; gray forms predominate in deserts in south. Upperparts are beautifully patterned with fine dark lines and white spots; feathers on underparts are marked with dark central streak and fine dark barring. Note the staring yellow eyes and pale-tipped dark bill. JUVENILE Similar to adult.

Dimensions Length: 7-10" (18-25 cm)

Habitat Common in a range of wooded and lightly wooded habitats, from native woodland to parks and deserts.

Observation Tips More easily heard than seen. Typically roosts during daytime hours in dense cover or a tree hole, but sometimes emerges to feed while there is a glimmer of light at sunset. Inquisitive birds will sometimes respond to imitations of their calls.

Range Plains, California, Texas, Alaska, Western Canada, Rocky Mountains, Northwest, Southwest

Voice Territorial birds utter an accelerating series of abrupt hooting calls; agitated birds utter a faster version and pairs often duet.

Similar Species Whiskered Screech-Owl M. trichopsis (L 7.35-7.5 in) is marginally smaller, with a greenish yellow bill that is pale-tipped; neither feature is useful in field identification. Best distinguished by voice: "song" is a series of soft, piping calls that descend in pitch throughout sequence; lower pitched and with slower delivery than Western. Plumage is gray-brown overall, with similar patterning to Western, although barring on underparts is more striking. Favors mountain woodland (oaks and conifers), mainly in southern Arizona. Accessible canyons afford opportunities for observation, although species is strictly nocturnal.

Discussion Compact and rather dumpy-looking owl with a proportionately large head, rounded facial disc, and short, but pronounced, "ear" tufts. Mainly nocturnal, but sometimes seen feeding at dusk. Particularly vocal in spring. Plumage markings create the impression of tree bark and afford roosting owl excellent camouflage when sitting adjacent to trunk. Given plumage color variation, sexes are similar.