Tropical Screech-Owl

Megascops choliba
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
21-23 cm (8.2-9 in)
148-180 mm (5.8-7 in)
97-160 g (3.4-5.6 oz)
Tropical Screech Owl

Guido Spinelli

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Did You Know?

  • The Tropical Screech-Owl holds the record for being the most widespread and common screech-owl within the Neotropics
  • There are nine subspecies of Tropical Screech-Owl recognized by science
  • Given the fact that it is a common species, there is a surprising amount of information we don't yet know about this owl.

Other Owls

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

The Peregrine Fund is not working directly with Tropical Screech-Owls, but our conservation efforts through habitat protection, education, and community outreach extend to all raptor species, including this owl. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation. And, we support the Neotropical Raptor Network that promotes raptor conservation by helping create collaboration and communication among conservationists in the region. We also have created the Global Raptor Impact Network, which gives raptor researchers tools to more efficiently conduct their own studies while contributing to a global program. GRIN also provides citizen scientists a way to participate in raptor science and conservation.

Where They Live

This lovely owl lives in parts of Central America, including Costa Rica and Panama, and throughout South America. Within their relatively wide range, they can be found roosting, nesting, and hunting in a number of different habitat types. If you ever find yourself in Tropical Screech-Owl habitat, look or listen for them calling from open woodlands, along streams, in crop plantations and groves, second growth forests, and even in tree-lined residential areas.  

What They Do

With the word "screech" in its name, it would be easy to think that this owl only make loud, incongruent, possibly unpleasant vocalizations. However, the truth is, these screech-owls have lovely songs that have been described as "trills," and "purrs," "hoots," and "cackles." They have a few different songs and calls, each one used for a different purpose such as to attract or communicate with mates, or defend territories.

Like many owls, the Tropical Screech-Owl is nocturnal, meaning it is active mainly at night. In fact, it will start to move about right around dusk. It rests during daylight hours, often perched next to the trunk of a tree, or within branches that help it hide from would-be predators. And speaking of hiding from predators, the coloration of these owls' feathers provide the perfect camouflage.  The Tropical Screech-Owl comes in three color morphs, gray-brown, brown, and rufous. It also has short ear tufts, which aren't actually ears at all. Instead, they are feathers that grow on either side of their heads, and resemble the ears of some mammals. But, they don't have anything to do with hearing. Scientists believe these ear tufts help owls camouflage (by breaking up their silhouette) and may even aid in helping the owls recognize another of their species. 

Why They Need our Help

Though this owl is categorized as a species of Least Concern, mainly due to the fact that it is widely distributed throughout the southern portion of the Americas, this doesn't mean it isn't facing threats. Pesticides, human persecution, collisions with vehicles, and even deforestation may all be having a negative impact on this species' population. This, coupled with the fact that there is still so much we need to learn about the Tropical Screech-Owl, means we have a lot of work to do to help protect this species in the long-term. 

What They Eat

If you are Tropical Screech-Owl, your favorite foods will consist of large arthropods and small vertebrates. Though there haven't been a lot of studies on this owl's diet, we do know they feed upon a number of vertebrate species including reptiles and amphibians such as snakes and frogs; mammals including bats and rodents; and even birds! Of course, we can't forget all of the tasty invertebrates out there for an owl to eat. Worms, spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers, roaches, termines, crickets, and beetles are just a few of the items on this owl's menu. 

Researchers believe that this owl likely snatches a lot of its prey from the ground.

Nests, Eggs, and Young

Like many other owl species, the Tropical Screech-Owl doesn't build its own nest. Instead, it lays its eggs inside a natural or man-made cavity such as a hole in a tree (perhaps carved out by a woodpecker!), or a nest box. It will sometimes even take over old bird nests and use those in which to raise its young.

When the time is right, the female will usually lay between 1 and 3 eggs, though researchers have even discovered nests with up to 6 eggs!  When the owlets hatched, they are covered in white down, and they have light pink legs and feet. Nestlings come out of the egg helpless. Their eyes remain closed for around their first week of life! Though not definitive information exists, it is likely that these owlets will be strong and developed enough to fly from their nest for the first time when they are around one month old. 

Tropical Screech Owl and the World Center for Birds of Prey

Though The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey is far from Tropical Screech-Owl habitat, a visit here will give you an opportunity to meet a few other screech-owls face to face. Rusty, our Eastern Screech-Owl, and Winston, our Western Screech-Owl are part of our Avian Ambassador team. They are often out greeting visitors during bird presentations and sit comfortably on their handlers' gloves, which allows you to get a close up view of these exceptionally cute raptors. Additionally, the World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room feature activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes. There is also a touch table with owl feathers and other natural objects for exploration.


BirdLife International. 2016. Megascops cholibaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22688774A93208267. Downloaded on 15 October 2021.

Ong, G. (2020). Tropical Screech-Owl (Megascops choliba), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.