ⓘ Scops owl


ⓘ Scops owl

Scops owls are typical owls mostly belonging to the genus Otus. Approximately 45 living species are known, but new ones are frequently recognized and unknown ones are still being discovered every few years or so, especially in Indonesia. For most of the 20th century, this genus included the American screech owls, which are now again separated in Megascops based on a range of behavioral, biogeographical, morphological and DNA sequence data. Otus is the largest genus of owls in terms of number of species.

Scops owls in the modern sense are restricted to the Old World. A single North American species, the flammulated owl, was provisionally placed in Otus and has now been moved to its own monotypic genus.

As usual for owls, female scops owls are usually larger than the males of their species, with owls of both sexes being compact in size and shape. All of the birds in this genus are small and agile. Scops owls are colored in various brownish hues, sometimes with a lighter underside and/or face, which helps to camouflage them against the bark of trees. Some are polymorphic, occurring in a greyish- and a reddish-brown morph.


1. Taxonomy

The generic name Otus was proposed by Thomas Pennant in 1769 for the Indian scops owl O. bakkamoena. The generic name Scops was proposed by Marie Jules Cesar Savigny in 1809.

By the mid-19th century, it was becoming clear that Otus encompassed more than one genus. First, in 1848, the screech owls were split off as Megascops. The white-faced owls of Africa, with their huge eyes and striking facial coloration, were separated in Ptilopsis in 1851. In 1854, the highly apomorphic white-throated screech owl of the Andes was placed in the monotypic genus Macabra. Gymnasio was established in the same year for the Puerto Rican screech owl, and the bare-legged owl or "Cuban screech owl" was separated in Gymnoglaux the following year; the latter genus was sometimes merged with Gymnasio by subsequent authors. The Palau owl, described only in 1872 and little-known to this day, was eventually separated in Pyrroglaux by Yoshimaro Yamashina in 1938.

In the early 20th century, the lumping-together of taxa had come to be preferred. The 3rd edition of the AOU checklist in 1910 placed the screech owls back in Otus. Although this move was never unequivocally accepted, it was the dominant treatment throughout most of the 20th century. In 1988 it was attempted to resolve this by re-establishing all those genera split some 140 years earlier at subgenus rank inside Otus. Still, the diversity and distinctness of the group failed to come together in a good evolutionary and phylogenetic picture, and it was not until the availability of DNA sequence data that this could be resolved. In 1999, a preliminary study of mtDNA cytochrome b across a wide range of owls found that even the treatment as subgenera was probably unsustainable and suggested that most of the genera proposed around 1850 should be accepted. Though there was some debate about the reliability of these findings at first, they have been confirmed by subsequent studies. In 2003, the AOU formally re-accepted the genus Megascops again.

The flammulated owl has been found to be marginally closer to the screech owls than to the scops owls, but by no means robustly or reliably so. If the scops and screech owl clade indeed originated in the Old World, the flammulated owls ancestors either colonized the Americas independently from but at about the same time and from much the same stock as the screech owls, or they diverged immediately after the latter had settled in the New World. In any case, "Otus" flammeolus now usually warrants separation in its own monotypic genus as this would best agree with the available data. It has been retained in Otus simply because it does not have the characteristic "song" or rapid trill of Megascops.


1.1. Taxonomy Species

  • Andaman scops owl, Otus balli
  • Sulu reddish scops owl, Otus rufescens burbidgei – doubtfully distinct, extinct mid-20th century
  • White-fronted scops owl, Otus sagittatus
  • Reddish scops owl, Otus rufescens
  • Giant scops owl, Otus gurneyi
  • Madeiran scops owl, Otus mauli extinct, c. 15th century
  • Everetts scops owl, Otus everetti
  • Rainforest scops owl, Otus rutilus
  • Socotra scops owl, Otus socotranus
  • Wallaces scops owl, Otus silvicola
  • Seychelles scops owl, Otus insularis
  • Mayotte scops owl, Otus mayottensis – formerly included in O. rutilus
  • Moluccan scops owl, Otus magicus
  • Sokoke scops owl, Otus ireneae
  • Rinjani scops owl, Otus jolandae – formerly included in O. magicus
  • Palawan scops owl, Otus fuliginosus
  • Mindoro scops owl, Otus mindorensis
  • Javan scops owl, Otus angelinae
  • Sandy scops owl, Otus icterorhynchus
  • Nicobar scops owl, Otus alius
  • São Miguel scops owl, Otus frutuosoi extinct, c. 15th century
  • Eurasian scops owl, Otus scops
  • São Tome scops owl, Otus hartlaubi
  • Cyprus scops owl, Otus cyprius
  • Indian scops owl, Otus bakkamoena
  • Pallid scops owl, Otus brucei
  • Oriental scops owl, Otus sunia
  • African scops owl, Otus senegalensis
  • Sunda scops owl, Otus lempiji
  • Serendib scops owl, Otus thilohoffmanni
  • Collared scops owl, Otus lettia
  • Simeulue scops owl, Otus umbra
  • Ryūkyū scops owl, Otus elegans
  • Negros scops owl, Otus nigrorum
  • Enggano scops owl, Otus enganensis
  • Pemba scops owl, Otus pembaensis
  • Sula scops owl, Otus sulaensis
  • Sangihe scops owl, Otus collari
  • Arabian scops owl, Otus pamelae
  • Mindanao scops owl, Otus mirus
  • Sulawesi scops owl, Otus manadensis
  • Moheli scops owl, Otus moheliensis
  • Annobon scops owl, Otus feae – formerly included in O. senegalensis
  • Torotoroka scops owl, Otus madagascariensis – formerly included in O. rutilus
  • Mountain scops owl, Otus spilocephalus
  • Flammulated owl, Psiloscops flammeolus – provisionally placed here
  • Karthala scops owl, Otus pauliani
  • Mentawai scops owl, Otus mentawi
  • Mantanani scops owl, Otus mantananensis
  • Flores scops owl, Otus alfredi
  • Biak scops owl, Otus beccarii
  • Philippine scops owl, Otus megalotis
  • Anjouan scops owl, Otus capnodes
  • Rajah scops owl, Otus brookii
  • Siau scops owl, Otus siaoensis
  • Luzon scops owl, Otus longicornis
  • Japanese scops owl, Otus semitorques

An apparent Otus owl was heard calling at about 1.000 meters ASL south of the summit of Camiguin in the Philippines on May 14, 1994. No scops owls had previously known from this island, and given that new species of Otus are occasionally discovered, it may have been an undescribed taxon.

In July 2016, an unknown Otus species was photographed on Principe. The image was published on Ornithomedia.


1.2. Taxonomy Formerly placed here

As noted above, the fossil record of scops owls gives an incomplete picture of their evolution at present. While older sources cite many species of supposed extinct Otus or "Scops", these are now placed in entirely different genera:

  • "Scops" commersoni is a junior synonym of the recently extinct Mauritius owl, referring to pictures and descriptions which mention ear tufts; the subfossil material of this species had been erroneously assigned to tuftless owls.
  • "Otus" henrici was a barn owl of the genus Selenornis
  • "Otus" wintershofensis may be close to extant genus Ninox and some material assigned to it belongs into Intutula
  • "Otus" providentiae was a burrowing owl, probably a paleosubspecies

2. Evolution

The evolutionary relationships of the scops and screech owls are not entirely clear. What is certain is that they are very closely related; they may be considered sister lineages which fill essentially the same ecological niche in their allopatric ranges. A screech-owl fossil from the Late Pliocene of Kansas – which is almost identical to eastern and western screech owls – indicate a long-standing presence of these birds in the Americas, while coeval scops owl fossils very similar to the Eurasian scops-owl have been found at SOnix on the Spanish island Majorca. The scops and screech owl lineage probably evolved at some time during the Miocene like most other genera of typical owls, and the three see below modern lineages separated perhaps roughly 5 million years ago. Note that there is no reliable estimate of divergence time, as Otus and Megascops are osteologically very similar, as is to be expected from a group that has apparently conserved its ecomorphology since before its evolutionary radiation. As almost all scops and screech owls today, their common ancestor was in all probability already a small owl, with ear tufts and at least the upper tarsus "leg" feathered.

However that may be, the hypothesis that the group evolved from Old World stock is tentatively supported by cytochrome b sequence data.


3. Ecology and behaviour

While late 19th-century ornithologists knew little of the variation of these cryptic birds which often live in far-off places, with every new taxon being described a few differences between the Old and New World "scops" owls became more and more prominent. Namely, the scops owls give a whistling call or a row of high-pitched hoots with less than four individual hoots per second. This call is given in social interaction or when the owl tries to scare away other animals. The screech owls on the other hand are named for their piercing trills of more than four individual notes per second. They also have a kind of song, which is a short sequence of varying calls given by the males when they try to attract females to their nests, or between members of a pair. There are a few other differences such as the screech owls almost never being brown below which is common in scops owls, but the difference in vocalizations is most striking.

Scops owls hunt from perches in semi-open landscapes. They prefer areas which contain old trees with hollows; these are home to their prey which includes insects, reptiles, small mammals such as bats and mice and other small birds. The owls will also eat earthworms, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates. Scops owls have a good sense of hearing which helps them locate their prey in any habitat. They also possess well-developed raptorial claws and a curved bill, both of which are used for tearing their prey into pieces small enough to swallow easily.

Scops owls are primarily solitary birds. Most species lay and incubate their eggs in a cavity nest that was originally made by another animal. During the incubation period, the male will feed the female. These birds are monogamous, with biparental care, and only fledge one young per year. The young of most scops owls are altricial to semialtricial.

As opposed to screech owls, scops owls have only a single type of call. This consists of a series of whistles or high-pitched hoots, given with a frequency of 4 calls per second or less, or of a single, drawn-out whistle. Calls differ widely between species in type and pitch, and in the field are often the first indication of these birds presence, as well as the most reliable means to distinguish between species. Some, like the recently described Serendib scops owl Otus thilohoffmanni, were discovered because their vocalizations were unfamiliar to experts in birdcalls.

  • The rainforest scops owl Otus rutilus also known as the Malagasy scops owl or Madagascar scops owl is a species of owl in the family Strigidae. It
  • The Karthala scops owl Otus pauliani also known as Grand Comoro scops owl or Comoro scops owl is a small, scops owl endemic to the island of Grande
  • scops owl Otus scops also known as the European scops owl or just scops owl is a small owl This species is a part of the larger grouping of owls
  • 3 - 5 eggs. The collared scops owl is a small 23 25 cm owl although it is the largest of the scops owls Like other scops owls it has small head tufts
  • The African scops owl Otus senegalensis is a small owl which is widespread in sub - Saharan Africa. William John Swainson first described the species in
  • The Indian scops owl Otus bakkamoena is a resident species of owl native to South Asia. This species formerly included the collared scops owl Otus lettia
  • the striated scops owl. The pallid scops owl is a small eared owl similar in appearance to the Eurasian scops owl but with more distinct streaks on the
  • The Torotoroka scops owl Otus madagascariensis is a taxon of owl in the family Strigidae. It is endemic to the south and eastern parts of Madagascar
  • The sandy scops owl Otus icterorhynchus or cinnamon scops owl is an owl from the family Strigidae found in Africa. A small owl which has an overall