The Western Screech-owl is a small owl, slightly larger than a robin, and has a stocky body with a short tail. They are grey-brown or reddish-brown and flecked with white colour. They have large yellow eyes and feathered tufts on the top of their head, often called “ear tufts” or “horns” even though they are neither ears or horns. Their call sounds like a bouncing ball; a series of hoots, speeding up. They use these calls to find a mate, advertise their territory, and to communicate with each other. They breed from Mid-March to May.


Here’s what a Western Screech-Owl sounds like!

Western Screech-owls live in forested habitats next to water in areas throughout the Fraser Valley. Their small size makes them well suited to hunting under and along the edges of the forests. The markings on their feathers are perfect camouflage against the bark of the cottonwood trees that grow in their preferred habitat. The Fraser Valley is home to the kennicottii subspecies.

Before they start breeding in May, the males are responsible for finding appropriate nesting spots. They nest in tree cavities that have been excavated by other birds, like woodpeckers, or are naturally hollow or in boxes made especially for them. They look for cavities that have an entrance just big enough to fit through. This reduces the chance of being attacked by larger predators while in their nesting sites. Both the male and female will guard the nest cavity from smaller predators trying to predate their eggs or owlets. Once the male has found a suitable nesting location, he will call out to females. As a form of courtship, the male and female will sing duets and the male will present the female with prey items. Courtship activities will usually begin in the winter months.


Western Screech-owls are socially monogamous, which means they usually mate with the same partner for life. They may use the same nesting cavity for several years. They will lay two to five eggs in a single clutch and usually only lay one clutch per year. Once their eggs are laid, the female will incubate the eggs until they hatch, about 26-34 days after being laid.

Once the eggs have hatched, the female will spend most of her time incubating her owlets, only taking short breaks once or twice a day. It’s the male’s responsibility to capture food for the owlets and female during this time. The female will stay with her young for the first three weeks after hatching. After this period, she will begin taking longer and longer breaks away from the nesting site. During these breaks she will hunt or roost with the male.

As the owlets begin to age, they grow rapidly, reaching adult size in about four weeks. At this point, the owlets aren’t good at flying. The parents may begin to withhold food from their young to encourage them to learn to fly and hunt on their own. They will begin by taking short trips to nearby branches, flapping their wings to build up their flight muscles. After building these muscles for three to five days, they will begin to fly short distances, and within two weeks, they will be able to keep up with their parents. Owlets will remain with their parents for around five weeks after hatching. Once the owlets have fledged, they will disperse into other areas. Western Screech-owls reach sexual maturity at about one year and have a lifespan of around 13 years.

In recent years, the kennicottii subspecies has experienced an extreme population decline in the Fraser Valley. This has been attributed to multiple factors including habitat loss and predation. Here are a few ways that you can help Western Screech-owls:

  • Protect forested habitat and preserve wildlife trees (dead standing trees in a safe location) for Western Screech-owls to use as hunting and nesting areas.
  • Contact us about putting up a Western Screech-owl nesting box if you think you have the appropriate habitat on your property.
  • Learn to identify owls and report your sightings on iNaturalist.