Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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maxwelliae, p. 183.
2'. Size smaller, wing averaging 6.60 or less.

3. Wing averaging less than 6 ; plumage dichromatic.

4. Throat without fulvous collar. Southwestern Texas and Mexico.

mccalli, p. 183.

4'. Throat with partial, collar of mottled fulvous in gray phase.
Mexico and southern Arizona .... tricliopsis, p. 184.



3'. Wing averaging over 6.40.

4. Dichromatic, red or brownish gray. Eastern United States.

asio, p. 182.
4'. Not dichromatic, always gray.

5. Back brownish gray. Coast region of California.

bendirei, p. 183.
5'. Back clearer gray.

Plumage light gray, narrowly and sharply streaked below
with black. Mexi<

cineraceus, p. j
6'. Plumage dark gray, heavily streaked with black. South-

[exico to southern Arizona and New Mexico,
cineraceus, p. 183.

em Colorado, northern Arizona, and New Mexico.

aikeni, p. 184.
1'. Toes entirely naked to base.

2. Throat with conspicuous band of ochraceous, lower parts lightly

mottled idahoeusis, p. 185.

2'. Throat without distinct band of ochraceous, lower parts more heavily
mottled flammeola, p. 184.

373. Megascops asio (Linn.). SCREECH OWL.

Dichromatic ; gray or reddish brown, without regard to age, sex, or
season ; ear tufts conspicuous ; toes thinly
feathered or bristly on top. Adults: gray
phase : upper parts dull brownish gray, with
shaft streaks and fine mottlings of dusky ;
edge of scapulars and row of spots on edge
of wing white or creamy ; lower parts gray-
ish white, with heavy shaft streaks and
light cross - lines of black. Red phase :
upper parts clear rich rufous, with a trace
of black shaft lines and with white scap-
ular streaks and spots on edge of wing ;
lower parts streaked and mottled with ru-
fous and white, and with faint black shaft
streaks. Young : plumage barred or banded
with grayish or whitish, without longitu-
dinal markings. Length : 7.5010.00, wing
6.00-7.10, tail 3.05-3.50.

Distribution. Temperate eastern North
America, south to Georgia ; west to about
the 100 meridian.

Nest. A hollow in a tree or old wood-

n Biological Survey, U. S. Dept. of

Fig. 247.

pecker hole, 3 to 40 feet from the ground.
Eggs : usually 4 or 5, white.
Food. Mammals, birds, reptiles, batrachians, fish, crustaceans, and

"The common screech owl is distributed throughout the whole of
the United States and the southern portions of the British Provinces.
It is separable into several geographic races as is usual in species
having such an extensive distribution. . . . Their food consists of
a great variety of animal life. ... At nightfall they begin their
rounds, inspecting the vicinity of farmhouses, barns, and corncribs,
making trips through the orchards and nurseries, gliding silently


across the meadows, or encircling the stacks of grain in search of
mice and insects. Thousands upon thousands of mice of different
kinds thus fall victims to their industry. Their economic relations,
therefore, are of the greatest importance, particularly on account of
the abundance of the species in many farming districts ; and who-
ever destroys them through ignorance or prejudice should be se-
verely condemned." (Fisher.)

373b. M. a. mccalli (Cass.). TEXAS SCREECH OWL.

Dichromatic ; pay or rufous. Gray phase : smaller and darker than asio,
with more conspicuous dusky shaft streaks above and heavier shaft streaks
and cross-lines of black below. Rufous phase : much as in asio, the rufous
predominating on lower parts. Young : whole plumage, except wing
quills and tail feathers, barred or banded with grayish or whitish ; the
black streaks wholly wanting. Length: 6.50-9.00, wing 5.60-6.30, tail

Distribution. From western and southern Texas across eastern border
of tablelands of Mexico.

Nest. In cavities of trees. Eggs : 2 to 5.

373c. M. a. bendirei (Brewst.). CALIFORNIA SCREECH OWL.

Not dichromatic ; gray only. Slightly larger than asio, with heavier,
more marked shaft streaks of black both above and below, and less con-
spicuous cross-lining below. Smaller and lighter than kennicottii to the

Distribution. California.

Nest. Usually in oaks or cottonwoods.

373d. M. a. kennicottii (Elliot). KENNICOTT SCREECH OWL.

Conspicuously larger and darker colored than asio or bendirei ; upper
parts dark sooty brown, mottled and streaked with black ; scapular
streaks and spots on edge of wings rich buff ; lower parts heavily mottled,
lined, and cross-lined with black ; legs and feet rich buffy brown, finely
mottled with buffy. Specimens from the southern and eastern part of the
range lighter and grayer.

Distribution. Northwest coast region from Oregon to Sitka.

373e. M. a. maxwelliae (Eidgw.). ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCREECH

Large and very pale ; white predominating on lower parts ; upper parts
light ashy or buffy gray, with narrow streaks and faint mottlings of black-
ish ; white streaks on scapulars and on edge of wings, large ; lower parts
white, with narrow shaft streaks of black, and fine cross-lines of brown.

Distribution. Foothills and adjacent plains of the eastern Rocky
Mountains from Colorado north to Montana.

373f. M. a. cineraceus Eidgw. MEXICAN SCREECH OWL.

Small and very gray ; upper parts clear ashy gray, with numerous
blackish shaft streaks ; lower parts with narrow black shaft streaks and
fine vermiculations and cross-lines of black, without clear white inter-
spaces ; feet and legs finely and thickly mottled with dusky ; little trace
of brown anywhere in plumage. Length: 6.50-8.00, wing 6.10-7.00, tail


Distribution. Resident in Transition zone of New Mexico, Arizona,
Lower California, and northwestern Mexico.

373g. M. a. aikeni Brewst. AIKEN SCREECH OWL.

About the size of the California screech owl but more ashy, the dark
markings coarser and more numerous both above and below. Wing : 6.56,
tail 3.80, bill from nostril .47.

Distribution. Colorado and southwesterly to central New Mexico and
northeastern Arizona.

373tl. M. a. macfarlanei Brewst. MACFARLANE SCREECH OWL.

Size large and colors dark, but lighter than kennicottii ; upper parts
brownish or sooty gray with black shaft streaks and creamy stripes on
scapulars and edge of wing ; lower parts with heavy shaft streaks and
numerous fine cross-lines of black ; legs and feet buffy, slightly mottled
with dusky. Male : wing 6.96, tail 3.80, bill from nostril .53. Female :
wing 7.23, tail 3.85, bill from nostril .57.

Remarks. Macfarlanei is the size of kennicottii but with color ana
markings more as in bendirei.

Distribution. Eastern Washington and Oregon to western Montana,
and probably intermediate region, and north to the interior of British

373.1. M. trichopsis (Wagl). SPOTTED SCREECH OWL.

A small dichromatic species. Gray phase : upper parts brownish gray,
heavily lined with dusky ; lower parts grayish white, with broad shaft
streaks and cross-lines of blackish ; a partial collar of mottled fulvous
across throat and sides of neck. Red phase : mainly light rufous, obscurely
streaked and barred with dusky. Length: 7.50, wing 5.66, tail 2.89,
tarsus 1.17.

Distribution. From southern Arizona to Guatemala.

374. Megascops flammeola (Kaup). FLAMMULATED SCREECH

Adults. Toes entirely naked to extreme base ; ear tufts small ; upper parts
grayish, finely mottled and marked with blackish ; stripes on sides of back
yellowish brown or orange, white beneath the surface ; under parts whitish,
marked with broad mesial streaks and narrow cross-bars ; face, throat,
and upper parts sometimes washed with orange brown. Young : upper
parts mottled transversely with gray and white, but without black streak-
ing ; under parts similarly but coarsely and regularly barred. Wing :
5.10-5.60, tail 2.60-3.00.

Distribution. From northern California and Colorado south to the high-
lands of Guatemala.

Nest. In old woodpecker holes. Eggs : 3 or 4, white.

Food. Small mammals, scorpions, and beetles, and other insects.

" From what we know of the habits of the flammulated owl they
seem to vary but little from the other races of the screech, owl fam-
ily. They are apparently strictly nocturnal, and their food consists
of the smaller mammals, as well as beetles and other insects." (Ben-



374a. M. f. idahoensis Merriam. DWARF

Similar to the flammulated but smaller and
paler, especially on under parts in which the
ground is white, and the marking's restricted ;
facial ring bright tawny brown. Wing : 4.86,
tail 2.42.

Distribution. Idaho and eastern Washing-


General Characters. Length : 18-23 ; ear
tufts conspicuous ; ear openings small, without
anterior flap, the two ears not distinctly differ-
ent ; wing with 2 or 3 quills cut out ; toes cov-
ered with short but dense feathers; claws
wholly exposed.

TJ-WV TV* T>wr>TW From Biological Survey. U. S.

O SPECIES. Dept. of Agriculture.

1. Upper parts dark colored. m S- 248. Dwarf Screech Owl.

2. Feet barred with black and buffy pacificus, p. 186.

2'. Feet barred with black and rusty brown . . . saturatus, p. 186.
1'. Upper parts light colored.

2. Upper parts largely gray and buffy .... pallescens, p. 185.

2'. Upper parts largely white arcticus, p. 186.

375a. Bubo virginianus pallescens Stone. WESTERN HORNED

Adults. Ear tufts blackish ; iris bright yellow ; ring around face black ;
throat white ; rest of under parts white or buffy, mottled and barred with
brownish ; flanks buffy ; upper parts mottled dark brown, light grayish,
and buffy, lighter colors prevailing ; wing quills and tail banded with dull
brown ; whole plumage irregularly varied with buffy, tawny, whitish, and
dusky. Young : wing quills and tail feathers as in adult, rest of plumage
dull buffy or ochraceous, everywhere barred with dusky. Male: length
18-23, extent about 49-52, wing about 14.50-15.25, tail 8.25. Female :
length 22-25, extent about 57, wing 16, tail 9.

Distribution. Western United States, east through the Plains, casually
to Wisconsin and Illinois ; and from British Columbia and Manitoba south
over the Mexican tablelands.

Nest. A hole in a hollow tree, cliff, bank, or cave, or an old nest of a
crow or hawk. Eggs : usually 2 or 3, white.

Food. Largely mammals such as rabbits, prairie dogs, ground squir-
rels, skunks, and wood rats, game birds, waterfowl, smaller land birds,
and, in settled regions, poultry.

The eyesight of the horned owls seems to be better than that of
most owls, and Dr. Fisher thinks that in the breeding season they
hunt indifferently night or day. In disposition, he says, they are
"fierce and untamable, and in point of strength and courage infe-
rior to none of our rapacious birds." Speaking of their food habits,
the doctor says that "a bird so powerful and voracious may at times
be a source of great benefit, while at other times it may be the cause



Fig. 249. Western Homed Owl.

^fck f great damage. Now,

^Hft (tik. tiie ser * ous Broads it

. y ^bi makes on the tenants

JH Ir of the poultry yard, as

<ter BML J5 well as the destruction

BB88^_ ^S of many game and song

birds, would seem to
call for the total sup-
pression of the species.
Again, when engaged
chiefly in the capture of
injurious rodents, which
threaten the very exist-
ence of the crops, it is
the farmer's most valu-
able ally, and conse-
quently should be most
carefully protected."

The horned owl is one
of the earliest breeders
of the birds of prey.
In the southern part of
its range, eggs are laid
in December and January, and in Alaska they have been found in
April when it was so cold that they froze on being taken from the

375b. B. V. arcticus (Swains.). ARCTIC HORNED OWL.

Similar to the western horned owl, but ground color white and dark
markings usually much restricted ; under parts pure white, or only slightly

Distribution. Arctic America, south in winter to Nebraska, and from
Dakota to Idaho.

Nest. In trees, often a deserted hawk's or crow's nest. Eggs : 2 or 3,

Food. Largely waterfowl, ptarmigan, and arctic hares.

375c. B. V. saturatus Eidgw. DUSKY HORNED OWL.

Like 13. v. pallescens, but plumage extremely dark, face generally sooty
brownish mixed with grayish white ; plumage usually without excess of
yellowish brown, sometimes with none.

Distribution. West coast region from Monterey County, California, to
Alaska, and eastward to northern Rocky Mountains.

Nest. As described by Kennicott, in the top of a spruce, made of dry
branches, lined with feathers. Eggs : probably 2 to 4, white.

375d. B. V. pacificus Cassin. PACIFIC HORNED OWL.

Small, strongly mottled, upper parts grayish, with more or less buffy
admixture ; dark markings of under parts distinct ; tarsus strongly mottled.
Wing: 13.



Distribution. Valleys and southern coast of California, and east to San
Francisco Mountain, Arizona.
Eggs. Usually 3.


376. Nyctea nyctea (Linn.). SNOWY OWL.

Ear tufts rudimentary ; ear openings small, without anterior flap, the
two ears not distinctly different ; tail not reaching- beyond tips of longest
under coverts ; four outer quills emarginate ; toes covered with long

From The Osprcy.
Fig. 250.

hair - like feathers, partly or wholly concealing the claws ; bill nearly
concealed by loral feathers. Adult male : body pure white, sometimes
almost unspotted, but usually marked more or less with transverse spots
or bars of slaty brown. Adult female, : much darker, pure white only on
face, throat, middle of breast and feet, the head spotted, and the rest
of the body barred with dark brown. Male : length 20-23, wing 15.50-
17.30, tail 9.00-9.70, bill 1. Female : length 23-27, wing 17.30-18.70, tail
9.70-10.30, bill 1.10.


Distribution. Breeds in arctic portions of the northern hemisphere,
migrating south in North America almost across the United States and
even reaching, accidentally, the Bermudas.

Nest. In a slight depression of the ground, on a knoll, made of a few
feathers, lichens, or moss. Eggs : usually 5 to 7, white.

Food. In summer, lemmings and meadow mice ; in winter, fish, hares,
muskrats, squirrels, rats, ptarmigans, ducks, and even offal.

The snowy owl is a circumpolar species, breeding in the arctic
parts of the northern hemisphere and coming south in winter.

Mr. Nelson, while traveling south of the Yukon in December, shot
an owl whose nearly immaculate milky white plumage was suffused
with ' a rich and extremely beautiful shade of clear lemon yellow,
exactly as the rose blush clothes the entire plumage of some gulls in
spring. The morning after the bird was killed the color was gone,
the plumage being dead white.'


377a. Surnia ulula caparoch (Mull.). AMERICAN HAWK OWL.

Head without ear tufts; ear openings small like Bubo and Nyctea; tail long,
more than two thirds length of wing, graduated; tarsus scarcely or not longer

than middle toe ; feet thickly
feathered to claws. Adults : face
grayish white, encircled by heavy
black ring ; patches on throat,
sides of head, and back of neck
black; chest band whitish; rest

of under parts closely and regularly barred with brown and white ; top
of head and hind neck blackish or brownish, dotted with white ; rest of
upper parts dark brown, mainly spotted or barred with white. Young :
upper parts dark brown, feathers of top of head and hind neck tipped
with grayish buff, those of back with indistinctly lighter tips ; lores and
ear coverts brownish black ; rest of face whitish ; under parts whitish,
washed with sooty on chest, barred below. Length: 14.75-17.50, wing
about 9, tail 6.80-7.00.

Distribution. Northern North America, south in winter to the north-
ern United States, casually to Massachusetts, and rarely to the British Isles.
Recorded from northern Montana and Newfoundland in the breeding season.
Nest. Old woodpecker holes, natural cavities in trees, and old nests of
other species relined with moss and feathers. Eggs : 3 to 7, white.

Food. Small mammals, such as mice, lemmings, and ground squirrels ;
also ptarmigans and insects.

"The hawk owl is strictly diurnal, as much so as any of the hawks,
and like some of them often selects a tall stub or dead-topped tree in
a comparatively open place for a perch, where it sits in the bright
sunlight watching for its prey. Although the flight is swift and
hawk-like, it has nevertheless the soft, noiseless character common
to the other owls. When starting from any high place, such as the
top of a tree, it usually pitches down nearly to the ground, and flies
off rapidly above the tops of the bushes or high grass, abruptly ris-


ing again as it seeks another perch. The note is a shrill cry which
is uttered generally while the bird is on the wing." (Fisher.)


378. Speotyto cunicularia hypogaea (Bonap.). BURROWING

Tail only about half as long- as wing ; tarsus more than twice as long as
middle toe, scantily feathered in front, bare
behind ; toes bristly.

Adults. Upper parts dull earth brown,
spotted and barred with white and buffy ;
under parts mainly buffy barred with brown.
Young : under parts mainly buffy, unmarked ;
upper parts plain brown except wings and
tail, which are as in adults. Length: 9-11,
wing- 5.80-7.20, tail 3.15-3.50, bill .55-60.

Distribution. Plains region from the
Pacific east to Dakota and Texas, and from
British Columbia and eastern slope of Rocky
Mountains south to Guatemala.

Nest. At the end of an old burrow of
prairie dog 1 , badger, or ground squirrel, or in
a similar cavity. Eggs : 6 to 11, white. From Biological Survey, u. S. Dept.

Food. Ground squirrels, young prairie j^Sa

dogs, mice, gophers, small birds, frogs, liz-
ards, horned toads, and even fish, together with crickets, grasshoppers,
beetles, scorpions, and centipeds.

When you are living in the owls' country, they, like the ground
squirrels and prairie dogs, coine to seem a part of the landscape, and
as you ride over the great brown stretches you find yourself looking
for the quaint little ' Billy owls ' for life and interest on the mono-
tonous way. In a region where there are only scattered holes suit-
able for their nests, solitary owls or families are most often seen, and
sometimes there will be as many as nine around one burrow. But
where a ground squirrel colony or prairie dog town offers good nest
holes the little owls gather in companies.

In dog towns they often find spacious old badger holes to occupy.
As you walk about one of the towns and the dogs lope off to their
holes shaking their little yellow tails as they disappear, the owls
stand statue-like around their burrows with their eyes upon you. If
you are bent on getting within good photographing range the young
ones will go backing down their holes, their solemn round yellow
eyes fixed on yours till they drop below the earth line. Their elders
will probably fly before you get your focus, though it is only a low
short flight to a neighboring mound. It rarely seems to occur to
them to leave the town.

The association of owls, dogs, badgers, and rattlesnakes is far from
being that of the happy family circle it was formerly supposed. The


rattlesnakes are evidently attracted to the towns by the supply of
tender spring dogs, and it has been suspected that the badgers relish
a young owl for breakfast. The owls have been accused of joining
in the neighborly round-robin feast and partaking of the young
dogs, but, although they eat squirrels and mice in spring and fall,
they live for the most part on grasshoppers and crickets. They
hunt mainly in the evening and at night, but are often seen catching
grasshoppers in the daytime.


General Characters. Wing 3.50-4.40 ; head without ear tufts ; ear
opening's small, without anterior flap, the two ears alike ; nostril small, cir-
cular, opening near the middle of the inflated cere ; tarsus not longer than
middle toe, densely feathered ; tail more than half as long as wing,


1. Sides plain brown, unspotted phalaenoides, p. 191.

1'. Sides more or less spotted.

2. Back grayer gnoma, p. 190.

2'. Back browner calif ornicum, p. 191.

379. Glaucidium gnoma Wagl PYGMY OWL.

Adults. Very small, under parts white, thickly streaked with dark
brown ; sides brownish, indistinctly spotted with lighter ; upper parts dark
slaty gray, olive brown, or dark rusty brown ;
head specked with white ; tail blackish or
brownish, barred with white. Young: like adult,

but top of head plain gray. Length : 6.50-7.50,

F . ^ wing 3.40-4.00, tail 2.40-2.80.

Distribution. Timbered mountain regions

of western North America from British Columbia south through Sierra
Madre of Mexico, except along the humid Pacific coast region.

Nest. As far as known, in old woodpecker holes and hollow stubs from
8 to 20 feet from the ground. Eggs : usually 4, white.

Food. Mainly insects, especially grasshoppers ; but also mice and

"This little owl is diurnal in its habits, feeding and flying about
in the bright sunshine, though it is more common in the early dusk
and morning. Mr. Henshaw says it is fond of taking its station
early in the morning on the top of an old stub, that it may enjoy
the warmth of the sun's rays. In most places it is more or less soli-
tary, though in New Mexico Mr. Henshaw found it extremely socia-
ble, and in the fall it was usually met with in companies.
' " It is tame and unsuspicious and may be decoyed from a consid-
erable distance by imitating its call-note, to which it responds at
once. It is confined mostly to wooded districts, though occasion-
ally it is found some distance from timber. It hides in the pines or


other thick foliage, where it sits upright near the trunk and is prac-
tically invisible to the observer.

' ' The flight is not very much like that of other owls, but resem-
bles that of the sparrow hawk to some extent, and is not altogether
noiseless. The love-notes, according to Captain Bendire, are some-
what musical, although they resemble to some extent those of the
mourning dove." (Fisher.)

379a. G. g. calif orni cum (Sd.). CALIFORNIA PYGMY OWL.

Similar to G. gnoma but browner, chest heavily washed with reddish
brown. Young : much paler, ash gray on head and grayish brown on back,

Distribution. Humid coast region from southern British Columbia
south to northern California.

Nest. In deserted woodpecker holes. Eggs : usually 4, white.

Food. Largely mammals and small birds.

380. Glaucidium (Daud.). FERRUGINOUS PYGMY


Adults. Similar to the pygmy owl, but sides of breast plain brown or
rufous, upper parts varying from grayish brown to bright rufous; head
finely streaked with whitish ; tail banded, bars varying from white to ru-
fous and interspaces from grayish brown to blackish. Young : top of head
plain. Length : 6.50-7.00, wing 3.50-4.60, tail 2.20-3.50.

Distribution. From Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, south to south-
ern Brazil.

Nest. As far as known, in hollow trees, or woodpecker holes. Eggs :
taken by Sennett 4, white.

The little ferruginous owl is diurnal like the other pygmies, flying
about hunting in bright sunlight. His note, as given by Mr. F.
Stephens, is a "loud cuck repeated several times, as rapidly as twice
each second," given with a jerk of the tail and a toss of the head.


381. Micropallas whitneyi (Cooper}. ELF OWL.

Head without ear tufts ; ear openings small ; nostril small, circular, open-
ing near the middle of the inflated cere ; tarsus
longer than middle toe, scantily haired ; claws small
and weak ; tail even, less than one half as long as
wing; smallest United States owl. Adults: face with
white eyebrows ; lores and throat band white, encir- Fi - 254>

cled by brownish ring ; under parts whitish, with vertical blotches of dark
brown and rusty, finely mottled with darker ; upper parts grayish or gray-
ish brown, finely mottled with darker and rusty, and indistinctly specked
with rusty ; tail brownish, crossed by 5 or 6 narrow pale brownish or rusty
bands, usually interrupted on middle feathers. Length : 5.50-6.25, wing
4.00-4.40, tail 1.90-2.30.

Distribution. From southern Texas to southern California, and south
through Lower California and tablelands of Mexico.

Nest. In old woodpecker holes in giant cacti or hollow trees. Eggs : 2
to 5, white.

Food. As far as known, small mammals, grasshoppers, and beetles.

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 23 of 65)