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Photo by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
This species was on the 2002 WatchList, but is not on the 2007 WatchList. Please refer to http://web1.audubon.org/science/species/watchlist/techReport.php for information on the 2007 WatchList.
An essentially Mexican and Central American owl of mountain pine-oak forests, the Whiskered Screech-Owl occurs in the U.S. only in the highlands of far southern Arizona and New Mexico. Like most owl species, its status and biology are only poorly known but it is thought to be under threat from logging in its Mexican and Central American range. It gets its name from the bristles on the ends of its facial feathers, which are longer than other screech owls.
Almost identical in appearance to Western Screech-Owl, the Whiskered Screech-Owl has slightly thicker barring on its breast and has orange-tinged eyes unlike the yellow eyes of Western. Voice remains the best way to distinguish these two species. It gives a series of hoots sounding like "po po po po po".
A nonmigratory bird of the Mexican and Central American highlands, Whiskered Screech-Owl crosses the border into the United States in the forested mountains of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Its range extends as far south as north central Nicaragua. It is a resident in the Patzcuaro and La Malinche IBAs in Mexico.
The U.S. population seems to be stable. No significant population declines have been documented for this species, although widespread logging in its Latin American range has undoubtedly had a negative impact. On the whole, it tends to be the most numerous owl at proper elevation (1,000-2,900 m) within its range.
Breeding occurs in canyon riparian forests at high elevations (1,000-2,900 m) from early April to July. Like other owls, Whiskered Screech-Owls duet or sing back and forth to each other to strengthen pair bonds. The male will also defend territory by singing and attacking intruders. A cavity nester, the female lays 3-4 eggs in an old woodpecker hole 10-30 feet up in a sycamore or oak tree. Both parents care for the young. Time until fledging is not well known.
Logging in Latin America poses the most imminent threat to this species. Overgrazing and fire-suppression also cause negative effects, but these are not as well documented. Human development in its mountain habitats in Arizona has been minimal. The only effects of humans in southeast Arizona have been caused by nest disturbance by nature observers and photographers. To date, human disturbance is believed to have very negative effects on known and readily accessible nesting pairs. Further research is needed to test this hypothesis.
In Latin America, continued attempts to curb logging efforts should be endorsed to ensure future habitat for these birds in the stronghold of their range. This species is considered a priority bird species for pine/oak habitats in the Mexican Highlands Physiographic Region by Partners In Flight (www.partnersinflight.org).
What Can You Do?
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Whiskered Screech-Owls as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Area programs in states with breeding populations of Whiskered Screech-Owl, and how you can help, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/
CIPAMEX, Audubon's BirdLife International partner in Mexico, has an Important Bird Areas program that is working to protect habitat for Whiskered Screech-Owls and many other species. To learn more about Mexico's Important Bird Areas program and how you can help visit: http://188.8.131.52/wwwcampus/cipamex/
The Raptor Research Foundation is a non-profit scientific society committed to understanding raptors. The researchers, government employees, and others interested in raptors that are members of this organization inform the public about the ecological role of raptors and promote their conservation. To find out more and how you can become a member, visit: http://biology.boisestate.edu/raptor/rrfc.htm
Gehlbach, F. R., and N. Y. Gehlbach. 2000. Whiskered Screech-Owl (Otus trichopsis). In The Birds of North America, No. 507 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Kaufman, K. Lives of North American Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Konig, C., F. Weick, and J. Becking. 1999. Owls A Guide to the Owls of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.