Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator
Standing at a gargantuan height of about eight inches: Echo the Eastern Screech Owl is the resident Angry Bird at Mountsberg Raptor Centre and perennial favourite for the Raptor Encounters. She has been a resident since 2003, only a hatchling, after her nest tree was cut down in 2002. When her nest tree was cut down, she was found by well meaning people who intended to raise her to release her back into the wild. Unfortunately their generous efforts and care of Echo made her a human imprint. She is deemed non-releasable because all she knows is that food comes from humans and therefore cannot hunt for herself.
Eastern Screech Owls are so tiny they can fit in a pint glass, but their ear tufts may stick out! The ear tufts are used in a special defensive posture called the “cryptic” posture. If Echo was in the wild and felt threatened, she would pull in all of her feathers, stand erect, close her yellow eyes, and put up the ear tufts to resemble a branch on a tree. Another defensive tactic the Eastern Screech Owl uses is to balloon it’s body up to make it look bigger than it is.
Eastern Screech Owls are active nocturnal predators: the generalist hunter will prey on shrews, mice, lizards, and sometimes bigger prey like another owl. Eastern Screech Owls use their beak to tear the prey into smaller bit size pieces.
While the Eastern Screech Owl breaks its bread into chewable pieces, other, bigger, predators are eyeing the tiny owls for their own snack. There are many predators of the Eastern Screech Owl: larger owls, hawks, weasels, raccoons, crows, mink, skunk, snakes, and opposums. Another common threat to this species are ant and insect infestations that attack fledglings. Research suggests a possible symbiotic relationship occurs between Eastern Screech Owls and blind snakes. The owl will take the snake back to the nest cavity: the snake keeps the nest cavity clean, and the owl lets the snake live safely in the nest away from predators. It’s more likely the snake is fed to the fledgling chicks, but this relationship has been reported rarely.
Eastern Screech Owls are named after the “screech” sound they make. They don’t screech in the way we think of it: the sounds are mostly whinnies and trills. Mated couples will often coo and trill at each other through the night. Eastern Screech Owls also use different sounds for annoyance, defence, and mating.
You’ll notice that Echo is the Ontario grey colour. Some Eastern Screech Owls are red, and both grey and red can come from the same nest. Since maple and breech trees are more common in Ontario, the Ontario grey colour is more successful, conversely, in a pine and cedar forest, the red feathers are more successful.
At this time of year, you can see in the picture above, Echo molts. The Eastern Screech Owl molt once a year so new feathers can grow in before the winter.
Come to Mountsberg Raptor Centre to say hello to Echo, and visit the Wildlife Walkway to greet the other birds. Please help Conservation Halton care for Echoand the other Raptors at Mountsberg Raptor Centre by contributing to the Raptor of the Month program.
Disclaimer: You can meet Echo for a Raptor Encounter, and the staff will do their best for you to meet our lovely Raptor of the Month, but sometimes mitigating circumstances arise. Our staff will do their best for you to meet your choice of bird, but please mind the fact that our beloved raptors have needs of their own.