Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE LITTLE SCREECH OWL.
BUBO ASIO, Linn.
PLATE XL.--ADULT AND YOUNG.
This Owl, although found in the Southern States, is there very rare.
During a long residence in Louisiana, I have not met with more than two
individuals. On advancing towards the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi,
we find them becoming rather more numerous; above the Falls of the former they
increase in number; and as the traveller advances towards the sources of that
noble river, their mournful notes are heard in every quarter during mild and
serene nights. In Virginia, Maryland, and all the Eastern Districts, the bird
is plentiful, particularly during the autumnal and winter months, and is there
well known under the name of the Screech Owl.
You are presented, kind reader, with three figures of this species, the
better to shew you the differences which exist between the young and the
full-grown bird. The contrast of colouring in these different stages I have
thought it necessary to exhibit, as the Red Owl of WILSON and other naturalists
is merely the young of the bird called by the same authors the Mottled Owl, and
which, in fact, is the adult of the species under consideration. The error
committed by the author of the "American Ornithology," for many years misled
all subsequent students of nature; and the specific identity of the two birds
which he had described as distinct under the above names, was first publicly
maintained by my friend CHARLES LUCIEN BONAPARTE, although the fact was long
before known to many individuals with whom I am acquainted, as well as to
The flight of the Mottled Owl is smooth, rapid, protracted and noiseless.
It rises at times above the top branches of the highest of our forest trees,
whilst in pursuit of large beetles, and at other times sails low and swiftly
over the fields, or through the woods, in search of small birds, field-mice,
moles or wood-rats, from which it chiefly derives its subsistence. Sometimes on
alighting, which it does plumply, the Mottled Owl immediately bends its body,
turns its head to look behind it, performs a curious nod, utters its notes, then
shakes and plumes itself, and resumes its flight, in search of prey. It now and
then, while on wing, produces a clicking sound with its mandibles, but more
frequently when perched near its mate or young. This I have thought is done by
the bird to manifest its courage, and let the hearer know that it is not to be
meddled with, although few birds of prey are more gentle when seized, as it will
suffer a person to touch its feathers and caress it, without attempting to bite
or strike with its talons, unless at rare intervals. I carried one of the young
birds represented in the Plate, in my coat pocket, from Philadelphia to New
York, travelling alternately by water and by land. It remained generally quiet,
fed from the hand, and never attempted to escape.
The notes of this Owl are uttered in a tremulous, doleful manner, and
somewhat resemble the chattering of the teeth of a person under the influence of
extreme cold, although much louder. They are heard at a distance of several
hundred yards, and by some people are thought to be of ominous import.
The little fellow is generally found about farm-houses, orchards, and
gardens. It alights on the roof, the fence or the garden gate, and utters its
mournful ditty at intervals for hours at a time, as if it were in a state of
great suffering, although this is far from being the case, the song of all birds
being an indication of content and happiness. In a state of confinement, it
continues to utter its notes with as much satisfaction as if at liberty. They
are chiefly heard during the latter part of winter, that being the season of
love, when the male bird is particularly attentive to the fair one which excites
his tender emotions, and around which he flies and struts much in the manner of
the Common Pigeon, adding numerous nods and bows, the sight of which is very
The nest is placed in the bottom of the hollow trunk of a tree, often not
at a greater height than six or seven feet from the ground, at other times as
high as from thirty to forty feet. It is composed of a few grasses and
feathers. The eggs are four or five, of a nearly globular form, and pure white
colour. If not disturbed, this species lays only one set of eggs in the season.
The young remain in the nest until they are able to fly. At first they are
covered with a downy substance of a dull yellowish-white. By the middle of
August they are fully feathered, and are then generally of the colour exhibited
in the Plate, although considerable difference exists between individuals, as I
have seen some of a deep chocolate colour, and others nearly black. The
feathers change their colours as the pairing season advances, and in the first
spring the bird is in its perfect dress.
The Mottled Owl rests or spends the day either in a hole of some decayed
tree, or in the thickest part of the evergreens which are found so abundantly in
the country, to which it usually resorts during the breeding season as well as
iri the depth of winter.
The branch on which you see three individuals of this species, an adult
bird and two young ones, is that of the Jersey Pine (Pinus inops), a tree of
moderate height and diameter, and of a scrubby appearance. The stem is
generally crooked, and the wood is not considered of great utility. It grows in
large groves in the state from which it has derived its name, and is now mostly
used for fuel on board our steam-vessels. The Mottled Owl is often observed
perched on its branches.
MOTTLED OWL, Strix noevia, Wils, Amer. Orn., vol. iii. p. 16. Adult.
RED OWL, Strix Asio, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. v. p. 83. Young.
MOTTLED and RED OWL, Strix Asio, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 120.
LITTLE SCREECH OWL, Strix Asio, Aud. Orn. Biog.,
vol. i. p. 486; vol. v. p. 392.
Adult with the upper parts pale brown, spotted and dotted with
brownish-black; a pale grey line from the base of the upper mandible over each
eye; quills light brownish-grey, barred with brownish-black, their coverts dark
brown, secondary coverts with the tip white; throat yellowish-grey, lower parts
light grey, patched and sprinkled with brownish-black; tail-feathers tinged with
red. Young with the upper parts light brownish-red, each feather with a central
blackish-brown line; tail and quills barred with dull brown; a line over the
eye, and the tips of the secondary coverts reddish-white; breast and sides light
yellowish-grey, spotted and lined with brownish-black and bright reddish-brown,
the rest of the lower parts yellowish-grey, the tarsal feathers pale
Male, 10, 22. Female, 10, 23.
Editor's note on the calls:
The call of the Little Screech Owl varies by geographical region. The
Bird Call, Eastern is heard in the eastern part of America, and the Bird Call,
Western is heard in the western part. The call that is heard when the plate
is displayed is the Eastern call.