Otus trichopsis (whiskered screech-owl), is found from southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico to northern Nicaragua, and it is found almost everywhere in between, provided there is suitable habitat.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: RESIDENT: from southeastern Arizona, northeastern Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Nuevo Leon south through mountains of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to northern Nicaragua (AOU 1983). Primarily at elevations of 4,000-6,000 ft (National Geographic Society 1983) (presumably this pertains to the U.S.).
Whiskered screech-owls are small owls 17.5 to 18.9 cm long, weighing 85 to 98 g. They have prominent ear-tufts, yellow-olive bills, and feathered toes. They are usually grey with rusty tones (females are darker). A rufous morph and a brownish variant of grey occur, mostly in the Latin American portion of their range. Adults have distinct whisker-like extensions of facial disk feathers and a golden to orangish iris.
Range mass: 85 to 98 g.
Range length: 17.5 to 18.9 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 18 cm
Weight: 92 grams
Whiskered screech-owls are found in montane woodlands and forests as well as riparian canyon forests. They can be found at elevations between 1000 to 2900 m.
Range elevation: 1000 to 2900 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Dense oak and oak-pine woodlands. Subtropical and lower Temperate zones. Usually found at higher elevations where range overlaps western screech-owl (National Geographic Society 1983). Nests in a natural tree cavity or an abandoned woodpecker hole. Nest trees in Arizona include oak, walnut, sycamore, and juniper.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Whiskered screech-owls use a sit-and-wait strategy when hunting. They capture prey with their feet and bill. They find prey on foliage, tree trunks, leaf litter and the ground. Insects, including caterpillars, are their primary food, but their diet incorporates a variety of arthropods, lizards, snakes, birds, bats, shrews, and mice.
Whiskered screech-owls will cache food in unused nest cavities.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore )
Comments: Feeds mainly on insects (e.g., moths, mantises, grasshoppers, beetles); prey length size often about 15 mm (range 6-75 mm). Evidently captures flying insects in air, also captures prey on vegetation and on ground (Johnsgard 1988).
Whiskered screech-owls have an impact on the prey they eat.
Whiskered Screech-owl pairs bark at predators that come in the vicinity of their nest. The nest is vulnerable to gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), green rat snakes (Senticolis triaspis), coatis (genus Nasua) and raccoons (Procyon lotor). Spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) and Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii) are known adult predators.
- gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
- green rat snakes (Senticolis triaspis)
- coatis (Nasua)
- raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- spotted owls (Strix occidentalis)
- Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Territory size in pine-oak habitat is about 300 m in diameter. Home range of breeding pairs ranged from 1.9 to 5.0 (mean 3.3) linear hectares along permanent creek; this equivalent to 1525 to 1550 meters of creek (Gehlbach and Gehlbach 2000).
Life History and Behavior
Songs consist of multiple notes with intervals between notes. Intervals are normally less than twice the note duration and they have higher-frequency harmonics (Van der Weyden, 1975). Males also make a short trill that is three to fifteen notes and lasts 1.0 to 2.5 seconds (Jacot, 1931; Martin, 1974). The emphatic trill, a variant of the short trill, rises slightly to a louder third note then falls (Gehlbach and Gehlbach, 2000).
Communication Channels: acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
We do not have information on lifespan/longevity for this species at this time.
Whiskered screech-owls are monogamous with pair bonds lasting at least one mating season. Copulation is preceeded by a female whistle which is accompanied by male telegraphic trill. There is no obvious courtship feeding. Each copulation lasts approximately five seconds.
Mating System: monogamous
Breeding occurs in April and May. Females lay 2 to 4 eggs per clutch; eggs are incubated for 26 days, on average. Chicks fledge after 24 to 30 days.
Breeding season: April and May
Range eggs per season: 2 to 4.
Average time to hatching: 26 days.
Range fledging age: 24 to 30 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Only female whiskered screech-owls incubate the eggs. Females stay on the eggs at all times except for brief recesses at dusk and before dawn. Males provision incubating females.
Young are semi-altricial with downy white feathers, bare pinkish skin, closed eyes, and an egg tooth. After twenty days their average mass is 75 grams. Males hunt and transfer food to females inside or outside the nest cavity while she is brooding. Females hunt when nestlings are one to two weeks old and are no longer brooded. Fledglings initially have weak flying skills and stay near the parents; they are closely attended by their parents in the first week. Fledglings begin to catch insects in two to three weeks but do poorly at first. They beg to parents and are fed for at least four weeks but probably longer.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)
Eggs found in Arizona suggest laying in April. Clutch size is 3-4.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Megascops trichopsis
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
Whiskered screech-owls are threatened in New Mexico, because they are restricted to the Peloncillo-Guadalupe Mountains and in El Salvador because of habitat loss. They are protected under the US MBTA and are listed under Appendix II by CITES, but are not listed by the US ESA or the IUCN.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse affects of whiskered screech-owls on humans.
We do not have information on economic importance for humans for this species at this time.
Whiskered screech owl
Adults occur in 2 color morphs, in either brown or dark grey plumage. They have a round head with ear tufts, yellow eyes and a yellowish bill. The bird looks very similar to a western screech owl, but has heavier barring on the breast, and is slightly smaller in size.
Range and habitat
The whiskered screech owl's range extends from southeasternmost Arizona (the Madrean sky islands region) in the United States, southwards through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, to north central Nicaragua. Their breeding habitat is dense coniferous or oak woodlands, and coffee plantations usually occurring at higher elevations than the western screech owl.
These birds wait on a perch and swoop down on prey; they also capture targeted food items in flight. They mainly eat small mammals and large insects, with grasshoppers, beetles, moths making up a large portion of their diet. They are active at night or near dusk, using their excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey.
The most common call is a series of about 8 regularly spaced "boo" notes, slightly higher in the middle, slightly lower at each end.
3 to 4 eggs are usually laid in April or May, usually found in a tree cavity or old woodpecker hole 5 to 7 meters above the ground.
- Megascops trichopsis aspersus Brewster, 1888
- Megascops trichopsis mesamericanus (Van Rossem, 1932)
- Megascops trichopsis trichopsis (Wagler, 1832)
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly treated as a subgenus within Otus (Marshall and King in Amadon and Bull 1988), but mitochondrial DNA and vocal differences with Old World species indicate that generic status is warranted (Konig et al. 1999).