Spotlight on the Western Screech Owl

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance  western_screech
Latin name: Megascops Kennicottii Macfarlanei
Federal Status: Endangered
Provincial Status: Red Listed (endangered or threatened)

Characteristics


The Western Screech Owl is a small, grayish-brown owl with dense streaks of colour. They have very yellow eyes and feather “ear” tufts on the head. Adults are approximately 19 to 26 cm long and they weigh between 120 and 135 grams. Their call is a series of low whistles that speed up toward the end. Hooting occurs year round but is most frequent from February to April. They feed on various prey including mice, small birds, small fish, frogs, salamanders, worms and large insects. The Western Screech Owl does not migrate and remains in its region year round.

Habitat and distribution

The Western Screech Owl is found in deciduous valley bottoms and low-elevation riparian areas. Areas with black cottonwood are the most favoured but water birch and trembling aspen are also associated with occurrences of screech-owls. Western Screech Owls require riparian habitat with mature, large diameter trees for nesting and roosting as well as suitable adjacent woodlands and open habitats, with suitable perches, for foraging.

Threats

Urban, agricultural and hydroelectric developments pose the most significant threats to the population of the Western Screech Owl. Severe loss of riparian habitat in the South Okanagan Similkameen has caused the decline in Western Screech Owls in this region. Approximately 87% of the water birch and 32% of the cottonwood habitats have disappeared from the South Okanagan and Similkameen valleys over the past century. Mature and/or old trees, particularily cottonwoods, have been cleared for urban and agricultural conversion.

Wildlife trees are important! Give a hoot: What you can do to help Western Screech Owls:

  • Allow live or dead black cottonwood trees (especially those 36 cm in diameter) to remain standing. Learn more about wildlife trees at www.wildlifetree.org or contact the regional WiTS coordinator at witsos@shaw.ca
  • Restore and protect riparian habitat on your property. Learn more about the Riparian Area Regulation by contacting the local BC Ministry of Environment and the RDOS.
  • Install Western Screech Owl boxes.

Many conservation groups and organizations are working to help this owl and other endangered animals and habitats. Get involved with a local group to learn more and lend a hand. Contact www.soscp.org for more information.

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