Western Screech-Owl Biology

A Reference for North and Central American Owls

Name: Western Screech-Owl – Megascops (Otus) kennicottii
Other Common Names: Kennicott’s Screech-Owl (kennicottii); Vinaceous Screech-Owl (vinaceus); Guadeloupe Screech-Owl (suttoni); California Screch-Owl (bendirei); Pasadena Screech-Owl (quercinus); Yuma Screech-Owl (yumanensis).

Subspecies: There are 8 agreed upon races of the Western Screech-Owl, only one of which does not have a certain range crossing into North America as it is restricted to the tip of Baja California.
M. k. kennicottii is found from S. Alaska south through British Columbia down to N. W. California. This includes the possible race brewsteri.
M. k. bendirei is found from E. Washington east to W. Montana and south to S. California.
M. k. aikeni is found from E. California east to W. Oklahoma and from Utah south to Sonora, Mexico. This includes the possible races gilmani, inyoensis, and cineraceus.
M. k. cardonensis is found in S. California and N. Baja.
M. k. xantusi is found on the southern tip of Baja.
M. k. yumanensis is found in S. E. California, S. W. Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico.
M. k. suttonii is found in S. W. Texas (Big Bend) south into Central Mexico (Mexican Plateau).
M. k. vinaceus is found from South Central Arizona south into Sonora, Mexico.

Measurements and Weights:
Wingspan: 18 – 24 in.
Length: 7.5 – 11 in.
Tail: 3.5 in.
Average Weight: Male: 5.4 oz.
Average Weight: Female: 6.6 oz.

  • Western Screech owl
  • Western Screech owl
  • Western Screech owl
  • Western Screech owl

Description: This is a small owl that can seem to not have ear tufts if they are not raised, although can also be quite prominent when erect. The separation of the Screech-Owls in the field can be quite difficult except by call. The Western Screech has two color morphs, red and gray. The red phase is not very common (rare), is a subdued cinnamon-buff color, and only found in coastal British Columbia and Alaska. The gray phase bird is a gray to brown color overall. The undersides are light (whitish) with vertical streaks that have numerous fine cross bars. The only phase that both Eastern and Western Screech-Owls have in common range is the Big Bend area of Texas. The Eastern Screech has fewer, thicker cross bars on the chest streaks. The Whiskered Screech is similar to the Eastern Screech in its chest streaks although they appear bolder (there is no range overlap between Eastern and Whiskered Screech-Owls). All three Screech-Owls have a deeper (gray or brown) back side with dark brown or dark gray and white mottling, and / or short streaks; yellow iris and light tipped bill. The facial disk is grayish or brownish-white with darker spotting or streaking and thick black border at the sides; black lores and above eyes. The base of the bill on a Western Screech-Owl is dark gray or black. Eastern and Whiskered Screech have a yellowish to light gray or greenish-gray bill. Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls have overlapping ranges in all areas the Whiskered Screech occur in North America (S. E. Arizona and S. W. New Mexico) although it is smaller (1 1/4 in.) and typically is found at a higher elevation than Western Screech.

Young: The young are similar to the young of the Eastern Screech-Owl. Initially pure white fading to brownish-gray. This plumage is replaced with another developing plumage with darker upper parts and light under parts. Streaking, barring, and sharpness of the colorings both above and below develop as the owl matures.