Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Eastern screech-owl

with 44 comments

Eastern Screech-Owl 4419

On the morning of May 5th, Eve came in from the back yard and said she saw an owl out there. After I got my camera we went outside and I asked her to show me where she found the bird. She pointed, and at first I couldn’t see the small owl, but then suddenly I made it out. While still at a distance I started taking pictures, not knowing if the owl would stay put, but it did, and I managed to get pretty close as I continued photographing. Only after I moved really close did the owl finally get tired of me and fly away to another tree.

I know almost nothing about birds, so I looked in The Birds of Texas and decided this is most likely an eastern screech-owl, Megascops asio, which grows to between 6 and 9 inches in height. The tree isn’t native but the bird certainly is.

UPDATE. A raptor rehabilitator that a friend of mine knows added this observation: “Typical adult Eastern Screech Owl, he’s just trying to be invisible by blending into the tree. They pull their feathers in close to the body & put up the ear tufts, close the eyes to a slit and disappear into the forest. This guy is annoyed that someone interupted his day of sleep.”

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2014 at 5:50 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

44 Responses

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  1. That’s some owl.
    I’ve not seen one like it b4.


    May 26, 2014 at 6:36 AM

  2. Cute little fellow. That is a handsome set of talons.

    I opened this post twice on my iPad. Both times is formatted strangely. The main content column is narrower than normal. The right column is much wider. The font size is very small. That’s never happened before. It might be my device, or WordPress.

    Jim in IA

    May 26, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    • Like you, I couldn’t help noticing those talons. I feel sorry for any prey they’re intended to latch on to (and go into).

      I don’t have an iPad, but I checked on my iPhone 5s just now and found that this post shows up normally. I don’t even have a conjecture about what might have happened to it on your iPad, but I’ve encountered my share of strangeness in the world of mobile devices.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 7:04 AM

  3. Talons and their grip are impressive, as is the entire photo.


    May 26, 2014 at 8:22 AM

  4. Fantastic capture Steve


    May 26, 2014 at 9:36 AM

  5. Love his stare!

    The post opens for me just as Jim described, tall and skinny, like a fun house mirror. First time that’s ever happened.

    Marcia Levy

    May 26, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    • The owl followed me with its stare the whole time, and its head swiveled to one side or the other if I moved left or right.

      As for the behavior of the image for you and at least one other person, I wonder if it has something to do with the elongated shape of the photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 12:05 PM

  6. What a fantastic photo. I’m especially taken with the great variety in the patterns of the feathers, and that expression! My, goodness.

    I’m sure you know that owls have to move their entire head to look in another direction, since their eyes don’t move. It seems you captured a ninety degree turn with this fellow.

    When I was being cranky or disagreeable, my mother sometimes would say, “Don’t be so owly.” I never thought much about it, but this owl does seem a bit cranky. That may be where the expression came from.


    May 26, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    • I suspect it’s the image’s dimensions that are affecting the rendering. It requires a little scrolling even on my PC to see the entire image, since it’s twice as tall as it is wide.


      May 26, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      • I’m also guessing that the vertical elongation of the image causes some people’s computers to render the post improperly.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    • I figured this picture would get lots of attention, as it’s the closest I’ve ever come to an owl (or probably any other bird in the wild).

      In my reply to Marcia I mentioned that the owl followed me with its stare the whole time, and its head swiveled to one side or the other if I moved left or right. Based on the position of its legs, this could well be close to a 90° rotation to the left of its straight-ahead position.



      one of the definitions of owly is ‘In a bad mood; cranky.’ That’s exactly how your mother used the word, though that sense is new to me. “My” owl didn’t get owly until I got really close but it had been quite tolerant of me till then.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 12:16 PM

  7. cool


    May 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM

  8. Wow, what a sight!


    May 26, 2014 at 10:25 AM

  9. A fascinating face to look upon!

    Emily Heath

    May 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM

  10. this bird looks so odd, did you do something special with this picture ? he looks so thin and elongated and those eyes look like huan eyes !!! scary !!!! and his claws are way too big for this bird I think…..


    May 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    • I cropped the picture in an elongated way to discard uninteresting portions of the image from the left and right edges, but (at least on my computer) the owl is correctly proportioned. A couple of people have mentioned that their computers aren’t rendering the post properly, and yours may be among those. The claws do seem large, but that’s the way they really were.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 12:26 PM

  11. This is quite a capture. And in my uncontrollably irreverent fashion: 1) this begs to be a meme and 2) there were nuns in Catholic grade school who looked at me with a remarkably similar expression.

    Mad Queen Linda

    May 26, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    • Number 1 sounds good to me, but I’ll have to plead complete ignorance and take your word for it when it comes to Number 2.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 7:50 PM

  12. How in the heck did you get close enough for this shot? I thought owls were pretty timid. Perhaps your light had it mesmerized? What lens did you use? D

    Pairodox Farm

    May 26, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    • For whatever reason, the owl was complacent and let me get pretty close. The picture above was taken on a full-frame camera with a lens zoomed to about 250mm. In a few pictures I got close enough to fill the frame with only the owl’s head and upper body. I took the majority of the pictures without flash, then switched to flash and kept taking pictures until the owl eventually flew away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2014 at 7:58 PM

  13. Outstanding!


    May 26, 2014 at 10:56 PM

  14. It’s often quite the trick to get these guys with their eyes open. Well done.

    Steve Gingold

    May 27, 2014 at 4:31 AM

  15. This is a wonderful shot Steve! And those talons leave no doubt as to their purpose, wowza!!

    Alex Autin

    May 27, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    • I was pleased with the pictures I took of this owl, Alex. You’re right about those talons, and your “wowza!!” is the first among this blog’s comments.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 27, 2014 at 7:55 AM

  16. What a pleasant property visitor. And so lucky that he stayed put for you! We’ve seen only the Great-horned and Barred owls here. I would love to get me an Eastern Screech Owl for my bird “collection.”

    The Barred owl is a daily/nightly regular; we are routinely awakened by his eerie calls from the tree right next to our bed through open windows. I’m DYING to get a good photograph; video is all I got. He just blends too well and is very leery of the non-feathered two-legged animals approaching with any purpose. This is an old post (http://wp.me/p28k6D-Wj), but the Cornell link and my video are still good. Sorry to bait you again, but I just can’t help it. I just love ’em.


    October 6, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    • I’m surprised from watching your video that the barred owl makes such a high-pitched noise. My limited concept for owls is the stereotypical and lower-pitched hoo-hoo that I sometimes hear outside my house at night, though I’ve never been able to see the owl that’s making the sound.

      Good luck on getting a close-up still picture of a screech owl for your collection. My opportunity was so rare, and the owl so seemingly meek for so long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 7:27 AM

      • What you were hearing in the video were other birds, not the owl who was silent. The Cornell link (underneath) has the real Barred owl call. Once you hear it, you’ll know what it is from then on out. Unmistakable.


        October 6, 2014 at 7:34 AM

        • Thanks for setting me straight. The real sound strikes me as having elements of a dog and chimpanzee. I’d certainly be startled (and maybe scared) if I heard that outside my tent.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 6, 2014 at 7:38 AM

  17. He certainly looks annoyed. 😠 but great shot!


    April 12, 2020 at 11:26 PM

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