Western Screech-Owl
(Megascops kennicottii)


Picture of bird
© Tony Battiste
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Western Screech-Owl is restricted in Canada to low-elevation woodlands and forests along the coast and in the southern interior of British Columbia. Information from the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in British Columbia suggests a large decrease in the coastal population since the 1970s, and a large increase in the interior population (Meehan et al. 2018). The large degree of variation and the amount of uncertainty associated with the trend suggests that there is insufficient information to determine the extent and magnitude of the national population's decline relative to the 1970s. The species is therefore considered to be Data Deficient.

There are two subspecies that make up the species in Canada: M. k. kennicottii along the coast and M. k. macfarlanei in the interior. M. k. kennicottii was assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Special Concern in 2002 (COSEWIC 2002) but was re-assessed as Threatened in 2012 (COSEWIC 2012e) based on declines in the southern part of its range and probable declines in the northern part. Circumstantial evidence suggests predation by the newly-arrived Barred Owl may be the cause of the decline (Elliott 2006). Though CBC results suggest that the coastal population has declined substantially since 1970, the survey does not distinguish between the subspecies, and sample sizes are low.

Because of the macfarlanei subspecies' small population size and concerns over the loss of riparian woodlands, COSEWIC assessed this owl as Endangered in 2002 (COSEWIC 2002). In 2012, the subspecies was re-assessed as Threatened because its population and range was found to be larger than previously thought (COSEWIC 2012e). Though it is thought that this subspecies' population has remained relatively stable in recent years, there is insufficient information to determine the subspecies' population status relative to the 1970s. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2012Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspecies
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2012Western Screech-Owl macfarlanei subspecies
SARA (Canada)Threatened2017Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspecies
SARA (Canada)Threatened2017Western Screech-Owl macfarlanei subspecies
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Imperiled2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaData DeficientData DeficientNot Applicable
Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspeciesData DeficientData DeficientBelow Acceptable Level
Western Screech-Owl macfarlanei subspeciesData DeficientData DeficientBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada5,000 - 50,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence


Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

Conservation and management

The decline in Western Screech-Owl numbers on the Pacific coast has been mirrored by the increase in Barred Owls (National Audubon Society 2010c), which moved into British Columbia from the northeast in the last half of the 1900s and became common throughout the Western Screech-Owl's Canadian range by the end of that century (Elliott 2006). In the interior of British Columbia, Barred Owls contact Western Screech-Owls mainly at the edges of the screech-owl's range. The primary management issue in the interior is the loss and degradation of low-elevation riparian woodlands, particularly mature stands of cottonwood and birch (Cannings and Davis 2007). The Western Screech-Owl may also be particularly prone to collisions with vehicles, especially when foraging for earthworms during wet weather (Cannings and Angell 2001; see also Bishop and Brogan 2013 and Machtans et al. 2013). The species is tolerant of human activity and commonly found (at least formerly) in suburban parks; it also readily uses nest boxes for roosting and nesting (Cannings et al. 2017).

The Western Screech-Owl kennicottii subspecies is found in low elevation forests on the British Columbia coast, especially riparian woodlands, although it seems less tied to that habitat type than the macfarlanei subspecies of the British Columbia interior (COSEWIC 2002). The primary cause of the subspecies' decline on the southern British Columbia coast is thought to be predation by Barred Owls (Elliott 2006).

The main concern for the conservation of the Western Screech-Owl macfarlanei subspecies is the loss of valley bottom riparian woodland, primarily the loss of the mature cottonwood and birch groves that provide essential nesting habitat (Cannings and Davis 2007). These forests have decreased since European settlement. For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Great BasinGreat Basin, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Conservation
Northern Pacific RainforestNorthern Pacific Rainforest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other
Northern RockiesNorthern Rockies, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other