Facilitating the protection and restoration of species and ecosystems at risk on BC’s South Coast

Length 19-25.5 cm, Weight 120-305 g. A small owl with yellow eyes, a small beak and black eyebrow ridges that lead up in a “Y” configuration to short ear tufts on the corners of the head. The head is crowned with a triangular russet and black cap that follows the eyebrow ridge to the ear tufts. Ear tufts may not always be visible, depending on the owl's 'mood'. A master of arboreal camouflage, the white to pale-grey plumage is streaked with black and brown making it difficult to see against tree trunks or cavities where it generally roosts and nests. The coastal subspecies tends to have greater brown colouration while the interior subspecies is greyer. As with most raptors, females are generally larger and heavier than males.

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Global Status: 
Provincial Status: 
SARA Status: 
BC List Status: 
Blue (Considered to be of Special Concern)

Similar Species

There are a number of owl species that co-occur with the Western Screech Owl on the South Coast, some with ear tufts and similar camouflage patterning (e.g. Long-eared and Great-horned Owl) but all are significantly larger (2-3 times the size) than Western Screech Owl.



Western Screech Owl kennicottii subspecies (Megascops kennicottii kennicottii), potential occurrence range for the Coast Region. Elevation 0–600 m. The coastal subspecies is distributed throughout the Coast Region including Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands (absent from Haida Gwaii). This subspecies was once considered to be one of the most common small owls in southwest BC but has shown a strong decline since the 1990’s, especially near settlement areas in the Fraser Lowlands and southern Vancouver Island. Recent inventory work on the South Coast (2015-2017) indicated the subspecies appeared to still be relatively abundant in the Pemberton area, but "elss common in Whistler, Squamish and the Chilliwack area".


While this subspecies is primarily associated with riparian or low elevation forests, it can also be found in treed urban and suburban environments, and at the edge of forested habitats close to wetlands or fields. Western Screech Owl is a secondary cavity nester, dependent on other species such as Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker to excavate nesting cavities. This owl will also readily use nest boxes. Breeding territories are closely associated with riparian or low-mid elevation forest habitats and must contain at least two suitable cavities which are used for both nesting and roosting. Where optimal habitat occurs, home range sizes can be very small, and are generally assessed at 2.5–10 ha. Young of the year disperse from the natal area, with females traveling about three times as far as males (about 15 km vs. 5 km) in the first 3 months of dispersal. In British Columbia, nests ranged from 1.2 to 12.2 m above ground; all nests reported were in trees >25 cm dbh. Day roosts are usually in deciduous trees with a mean height of 21.2 m, at an average of 4.6 m high. The tree density around roosts tends to be greater than in the surrounding forest.


A non-specific predator, this subspecies preys on small animals,including mice, shrews, birds, insects, frogs, salamanders,crayfish, fish, and a range of insects and even worms. Western Screech Owl has also been observed scavenging from small mammal carcasses in California, a behaviour that may be more common than is currently recognized.

Life Cycle

Breeding begins at one year, birds are monogamous and breed every year.


Direct predation by larger owls (i.e. Barred and Great-horned Owl) and competition for prey resources is considered to be the single greatest factor contributing to this subspecies decline on the Coast Region.
Secondary factors which may exacerbate impacts from Barred Owl competition include loss of preferred nesting features and prey availability (tied to forest structure), disturbance from urban and rural development and logging and competition for nesting ca

Conservation and Management

Recovery approaches developed for the macfarlanei subspecies should be investigated for transferable conservation and management objectives that can be applied to the coastal form. Integrate complimentary measures found in the “COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspecies Megascops kennicottii kennicottii and the Western Screech-Owl macfarlanei subspecies Megascops kennicottii macfarlanei in Canada" (2012),"Best Management Practices for Raptor Conservation during Urban and Rural Land Development" in British Columbia and the Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife Western Screech Owl Megascops (syn Otus) kennicottii macfarlanei Accounts V. 2004. Assess, inventory and monitor using methodology set out in the RISC standards # 11 Inventory Methods for Raptors (Version 2.0). This subspecies is listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and is subject to protections and prohibitions under the BC Wildlife Act. Habitat for this species may also be governed under provincial and federal regulations including the Fish Protection Act and Federal Fisheries Act as well as Regional and local municipal bylaws.


For further information see:


B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2010. [Internet] [Updated ]. Species Summary: Megascops kennicottii kennicottii. B.C. MoE.

Cannings, Dick. 2004. [Internet] Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife Western Screech Owl Otus kennicottii macfarlanei Accounts V. 2004.

Central Okanagan Terrestrial Ecosystem & Wildlife Habitat Mapping Project. 2001. [Internet] Species account for Western Screech Owl Otus kennicottii macfarlanei.

COSEWIC 2002. [Internet] COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Western Screech-owl otus kennicottii in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 31 pp.

Davis, Helen and Richard Weir. 2008. [Internet] Western Screech-Owl Conservation along the Shuswap River Final Report. Artemis Wildlife Consultants. [BCRP Project # 07.W.SHU.01]

Demarchi, M.W. and M.D. Bently. 2005. [Internet].Best Management Practices for Raptor Conservation during Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. of Environ., Victoria, B.C. MoE BMP Series.

Elliot, Kyle. 2006. [Internet] Declining numbers of Western Screech Owls in the lower Mainland of BC. British Columbia Field Ornithologists - British Columbia Birds Journal Vol. 14

Ferguson, Greg. 2017. Summary of Inventory Results for the Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspecies (Megascops kennicottii kennicottii) in Southwestern British Columbia: 2015 to 2017. Prepared for: British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Species Inventory Database

Lewis, Deane P. 2010. [Internet] [Updated April 11 2007] The Owl Pages Western Screech Owl - Megascops kennicottii Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks Resources Inventory Branch. [Internet].2001. RISC standards # 11 Inventory Methods for Raptors
(Version 2.0).

Allen, Maximilian and A. Preston taylor. 2013. First Record of Scavenging by a Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125(2):417-419. 2013.

Robertson, Ian et al. 2000. [Internet] Observations of Two Species at Risk in Mainland Southwestern British Columbia: Hutton’s Vireo and Western Screech-Owl. Proceedings of a Conference on the Biology and Management of Species and Habitats at Risk, Kamloops, B.C. Volume One. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria, B.C. and University College of the Cariboo, Kamloops, B.C. 490pp.

Western Screech-Owl, macfarlanei subspecies Recovery Team. 2008. Recovery strategy for the Western Screech-Owl, macfarlanei subspecies (Megascops kennicottii macfarlanei) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 14 pp.


First edition prepared in 2010 by Pamela Zevit RPBio for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP) with Jamie Fenneman in partnership with: International Forest Products (Interfor), Capacity Forestry (CapFor). Original funding was made possible through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) .

2nd Edition 2014 by Isabelle Houde, RPBio in consultation with the SCCP. Content updated by the Pamela Zevit April 2017

Every effort has been made to ensure content accuracy. Comments or corrections should be directed to the South Coast Conservation Program: info@sccp.ca. Only images from “creative commons” sources (e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr, U.S. Government) can be used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only. All other images have been contributed for use by the SCCP and its partners/funders only.

This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada. Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier du Gouvernement du Canada. Every effort has been made to ensure content accuracy. Comments or corrections should be directed to the South Coast Conservation Program: info@sccp.ca.