"disagreeable howling or screeching," like that of a cat in heat, late 14c., caterwrawen, perhaps from Low German katerwaulen "cry like a cat," or formed in English from cater, from Middle Dutch cater "tomcat" + Middle English waul "to yowl," apparently from Old English *wrag, *wrah "angry," of uncertain origin but somehow imitative. Related: Caterwauled; caterwauling. As a noun from 1708.
"cry out with a sharp, shrill voice," 1570s, an alteration of scritch (mid-13c., schrichen), perhaps a general Germanic word (compare Old Frisian skrichta, Muddle Dutch schrien), probably ultimately of imitative origin (compare shriek). Also compare screak, "utter a shrill, harsh cry," c. 1500, from Old Norse skrækja, also probably echoic. Related: Screeched; screeching.
Of wagon-wheels, door-hinges, etc., "make a shrill, grating sound," 1560s. Screech-owl is attested from 1590s (scritch-owl is from 1520s) in reference to the barn-owl; in the U.S. the term is applied to small horned owls. The name is given to owls that "screech" as distinguished from ones that hoot. The cry was regarded as ominous.