Monday, August 18, 2014

Episode 227 (8-18-14): Eastern Screech-Owl

Click to listen to episode (2:47)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 18, 2014.  This week we feature a mystery bird, for which water is important, but sound is everything.  Have a listen for about 15 seconds, and see if you can identify what’s making this somewhat horse-like trill.  And here’s a hint: if you were one of the katydids you’ll hear in the background, your night might have come screeching to a halt.


If you guessed a screech-owl, you’re right!  That was the sound of an Eastern Screech-Owl, recorded in Blacksburg, Virginia, about 10 p.m. on August 12, 2013.  This small, ear-tufted owl is a common, year-round resident throughout Virginia and the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.  It’s a land-based, forest dweller, but its water connections include frequently inhabiting areas near a water source; using streams or other water bodies for cleaning their feathers; and including fish, amphibians, and other aquatic animals [as well as insects] in their mainly rodent-based diet.  Eastern Screech-owls are distinctive for having some individuals with gray feathers and others with reddish-brown feathers.  But instead of seeing this bird, you’re more likely to hear one of its trills, hoots, screeches, or other sounds used for mating, sounding alarms, or defending territory.   Not making sounds, though, is just as important.  Like other night-hunting owls, screech-owls have excellent hearing along with feathers adapted for nearly silent flight, allowing the birds to locate, but not scare off, their prey.  That’s likely the fate of katydids, mice, and any number of other small creatures, this August night.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 8/18/14]


Thanks to James Fraser, Carola Haas, William Hopkins, and Sarah Karpanty—all of the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation—for providing suggestions and information for this episode.

Sources for this episode

“All About Birds,” Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, online at; and “Birds of North America Online” Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, online at (subscription required).  According to the "All About Birds" information on food habits of the Eastern Screech-owl (online at, this bird will "
eat most kinds of small animals, including birds and mammals as well as surprisingly large numbers of earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and lizards."

“Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, online at

A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America
, by Chandler S. Robbins et al., St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

The Life of Birds, 2nd Edition
, by Joel C. Welty, W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1975; ; pp. 76-77.

“The Owl Pages,” online at

“Owls' Silent Flight May Inspire Quiet Aircraft Tech,” by John Roach, National Geographic News, 12/17/04, online at

Other sources of information

Virginia Society of Ornithology at

E-bird Web site at, maintained by the Cornell Lab and the Audubon Society.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

For information on katydids: “Singing Insects of North America,” by Thomas J. Walker and Thomas E. Moore, online at

Virginia Water Radio Episode 139 (11-19-12), “Wild Turkey and Water,” has information on water connections to terrestrial birds; available online at


Virginia Water News and Other Information
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