Eastern Screech Owl

Small, cute, and either gray or rufous depending on genetics, the Eastern Screech-Owl’s whinnying trill can be heard in mature Iowa woodlands. The Eastern Screech-Owl nests in cavities in trees and can often be found using Wood Duck boxes and other nesting boxes.

More information

See the Eastern Screech Owl's profile on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Photo Credits

Cover photo: By Virginia State Parks staff [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Collage Photo (above): By Richard Crossley (Richard Crossley) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons



Not all owls hoot and hoo
Some owls screech and cackle too
The eastern screech in its eerie glory
Telling it's tale, the complete story
The haunting cry only screeches could adore
Other forest creatures listen, the source of which they are not sure
All know that with the mysterious distant call
It means that spring is coming after all

A brown wound-up knot 
In a wooden beam
Closes its eye to sleep. 
Bat knows: ballasts
Are illusions, skewing
Through at any second.
“Earthquakes,” bat explains.

Meanwhile, owl leans 
back into the bark: no owl! 
But mouse remembers: 
Owl’s always there. Any
Moment: owl: mouse’s feet 
Rising from the illusion 
Of shadows and ground.

Mouse says, “It’s called death,
Apparently.” Still buried
In the bark, with words 
Made of flashlight beams
Owl says, “I invented it.”

With raucous shout
the crows announce
your presence in the walnut tree
your tufted points
your piercing eyes
I see you looking down at me
Each day I come
you mutely sit
nestled high in quiet repose
first leaves unfurl
then flowers bloom
yet not a stir as new life grows
The weeks roll on
with ceaseless hum
yet time stands still in the walnut tree
the pile of twigs
you dare not leave
the center of life's mystery
One day I come
the nest is bare
no swiveling head peers down at me
the cord is cut
the clock ticks on
winging beyond the walnut tree.

small rapture in the fracture
That blessed Burr oak Ents and Baxoje, 
The prairie ghosts honor you.

In the middle of a branch
Perches a sleepy half pint of a bird
This fluffy holder of the tree
Her head tucks into her feathers
A light shines down from above the barn
Two marble saucers illumine the night sky
Right in the center is a sharp tiny beak
Out of the corner of her she sees a scurrying mouse
She flies in for her delicacy

Eastern screecher? More…
Shivering, quivering wisdom—
Ashen, eminently pint-sized, 
Imperial vessel—
Trilling…Sincere? Authentic?
The things you professors think to say!
But you are you and I am gray,
Vertically barred, your invisible bard, 
Here then:
Curl up tonight with your nice book 
Of warming poems and you may hear
Unfurling from my veiled nook 
A chilling tremolo for your ear.

Like blue ink dropped in water,
or a few grains of salt in a sugarbowl,
mottled feathers darken to bark
then—a bark—a yeep—a flash
revealing the red that lies within
cannot blend, is its own heat,
hum and thumping done.

Inside the cavities of trees
melodies echo during the night. 
From a bird the color of the moon
no smaller than a pint glass.

He sing lullabies to the stars 
and listens intently to 
secrets told at night. 
Patiently waiting for his prey
to pass below his nest,
ready to attack at dawn. 

He is hard to spot for his feathers
are also painted like tree trunks
but if you carefully search at dark
you might see his honey-colored eyes. 


Perched on a creaking branch,
it nestles its head into its animated feathers.
Its flared chest is an intricate pattern 
of brown dashes that form in tiny clusters.

Silver eyes gloss over,
reflecting sight of prey.
Its body quivers
in sync with its heartbeat.
Blinking softly with an eerie hoot.

I don't want to speak of you,
I want to speak through you,
see through your wordless eyes, 
opened to the light of math, time, 
and when you lock your talons,

Grey eyes squint as it focuses on the light of the moon.
Their wings cover their dangerous screams,
it vibrates through their body and stays in.
Beaks are small and curved just like a wave.
Tiny legs hide the fact that they are violent.
Scared and cold it stands as it craves the taste of raw meat.
The nocturnal silence rings 
as they guard their offspring, ready to eat whatever comes near.
The sun rises and their eyelids fall,
fast asleep while they stand tall.


I would’ve never expected you,
to come out looking the way you do,
your orange coat and bright eyes are delightful, 
but as a child, you were quite frightful. 

You’re bigger now, and you have more color,
in type of bird terms, you looked like another,
the way that you started, bug eyed and gray, 
is incomparable to what you look like today.

Pardon my sound, I don’t mean to be rude,
I don’t want to get you in an upset mood,
you now roam the wilderness, beautiful and wild, 
but I remember you as quite the frightful child.

Somehow it's comforting to know that night's lightless corners are filled with eyes, feet, feathers, the guts of mice, fluff, updraft... No shadow goes unscanned. No sound, unheard. Nothing is wasted. Everything is seen. Every sound, a song, if only a moment.

Good Jog

Memorial Day morning the dog and I
came upon a great horned owl drinking
from a puddle. He sickled his yellow 
beak sideways, then stretched his head
up, letting gravity have its way.

On a trail mowed through a stand 
of bluestem, we startled a rafter
of turkey polts, their flight as 
wild as quail, but without the trill.
One perched in a tree eye-high.

We then crossed the highway and
ran back to the town that hold our beds
and breakfast, our white house with
tamed maples and a woman who was
baking bread and singing with the radio.

Mysterious bird of my youth you stand with others who are less common now and whom I miss greatly--the bobwhite, the bobolink--but unlike them you have the mystique of a night creature, and the distinctively eery call that makes even other nocturnal animals seem tame by comparison


Who has put this egg on my pillow?
I place it on my lips' cradle
Was it the vice-stricken owl?
Her night call radiating in vinyl grooves
hatching my swollen orb head.

I have angered the river by being lost
and not knowing the trees' wild past
- maybe my face is an ear
- maybe my blood is thickening to milk
- my tongue a wing.

Look now - it is that fermented owl;
she claws open the river's back
plucks fish from the dream
we have all dreamt:
an egg pearling its yolk gold nectar
on lobes of self and horned headed self.


Since when does a whinny
sound like a screech?

Now I’m misnamed,
like calling birch a beech.

Red & Grey
Haunting in the nite
Portend death to come

Knot upon a tree
Turns its head to see
What meal may hide below

Mom sits with the kids
While Dad bring back meals
Kids squabble til the strong remain