An overnight trip to any of Southeast Arizona’s Sky Island mountain ranges isn’t complete without hearing a Whiskered Screech-Owl’s hoots and Morse code calls. This is the smallest of the three screech-owls in North America, and it’s a specialty bird of the region occurring nowhere else in the US. Whiskered Screech-Owl is a year-round resident across its range that extends south into western and central Mexico, although the northern-most birds may migrate elevationally down slope in winter. They usually nest in cavities created by woodpeckers in oak or sycamore trees above 5,000 ft. Take a trip to Bear Canyon on Mt. Lemmon, Madera Canyon, or Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahuas to find them, especially in spring.
Whiskered Screech-Owls are small in size with ear tufts, a beautiful mix of gray, white, and brown mottled streaks and bars, and long facial whiskers, for which they are named. They really look a lot like their close relative that inhabits Sonoran desert vegetation and nests in saguaro cactus, the Western Screech-Owl. In the many locations around Tucson where these two species overlap, you must rely on hearing the owl vocalize to make an easier identification. At least I do!
Image by Scott Olmstead