A small woodland owl native to eastern and south Asia, on two recorded occasions oriental scops-owls have strayed as far as Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as vagrant visitors. These long-distance detours are highly unusual and the species is far more likely to be spotted in forested regions of east China.
Oriental scops-owls are tiny, with noticeable ear tufts. Two color morphs exist; a gray-brown morph and a rufous morph. Males and females are alike in both color variations.
Gray-brown morph oriental scops owls have a mottled sooty plumage with few distinguishing features apart from a white shoulder stripe edged with black, and strong black barred markings on the belly. The face is paler brownish-gray, with an indistinct facial disc and bright yellow eyes.
Rufous morph oriental scops owls have more vivid reddish-brown coloring, with deeper patterning on the back and wings and rippled reddish barring across the breast and belly. The white shoulder stripe is visible and perhaps the most notable feature of either morph of this species. As with the gray morph individuals, eyes are bright yellow.
In oriental scops owls of both color morphs, juvenile birds resemble adults although their barred markings are less vivid.
Oriental Scops-Owl perching on a fallen branch
A tiny forest-dwelling owl, the oriental scops-owl is similar in size to the northern and ferruginous pygmy owls. Females are usually noticeably larger and heavier than males.
Oriental Scops-Owl perched in woodland habitat with pronounced ear tufts
A repetitive flowing ‘toik-toik-toik’ call is the most frequently heard vocalization of oriental scops-owls.
Oriental Scops-Owl in natural habitat
The diet of oriental scops-owls consists mainly of invertebrates and spiders, particularly locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, and larvae. Small birds, rodents, and reptiles are also eaten.
Crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and larvae are the most common prey items delivered to nest cavities by male oriental scops-owls.
Oriental Scops-Owl looking on food on the ground of the forest
Dry deciduous or mixed species forests offer the required nesting sites for oriental scops-owls. Evergreen trees are also used for nesting but less frequently.
Preferred habitats also include orchards, riverside woodland landscapes, parklands, and agricultural land. They are also regularly spotted living in settled areas, in suburban environments.
Oriental scops-owls are widely distributed across South and East Asia. A disjunct population exists in India, with resident populations found along the west coast and throughout Sri Lanka.
To the north, the species is present across northern India and Nepal eastwards to the coast of south China, stretching southwards into South East Asia. In the southern reaches of the range, for example in Malaysia and northern Indonesia, oriental scops-owls are winter visitors only.
In the east of the range, from around Shanghai northwards, the presence of oriental scops-owls is limited to the breeding season only, with breeding grounds extending northwards into Siberia, Japan, northern China, and the Korean peninsula.
Precise data for individual countries’ populations of oriental scops-owls remains under-researched. The Korean peninsula, China, and Japan are all believed to host up to 100,000 breeding pairs each spring, while up to 10,000 pairs breed in Siberian Russia.
Although global population estimates are unavailable for the species, oriental scops-owls are not considered rare.
Due to their nocturnal habits, small size, and well-camouflaged plumage, they are not as frequently spotted as some larger, more familiar owls, but they are widespread and considered a relatively common Asian owl species.
Oriental Scops-Owl, red morph, sitting on a branch
Only two recorded and verified sightings of oriental scops-owls have been made in the United States to date. Classed as accidental vagrants and a non-native species, the oriental scops-owl sightings were made in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in 1977 and 1979.
Oriental scops-owls have not officially been spotted in Canada, with the nearest reports of the species being two independent records in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
Oriental Scops-Owl perching on a branch
Breeding occurs for the first time at the end of an oriental scops-owl’s first year of life. The average expected and maximum life expectancy for this species is unknown.
Little is known about how much of a risk predators pose to oriental scops-owl, and what animals or other birds may raid nests, steal eggs, and kill nestlings.
Oriental scops-owls are included for protection under CITES Appendix II, where they are listed in the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
Currently, the population of oriental scops-owls is considered stable, and there are no immediate threats to their future survival. The IUCN has rated them as a species of least concern globally.
Oriental Scops-Owl in woodland habitat
Suitable cavity sites are found by male oriental scops owls, either naturally occurring hollows in deciduous tree trunks, chambers excavated by other birds, or nest boxes. Holes in walls may also be used. Ahead of breeding, males prepare nest sites and females select a mate based on their preferred nest.
Egg-laying commences from February in India and Pakistan, from April onwards in Siberia and northern China, and from May in Japan. Females incubate alone and are brought food to the nest by their mate. The incubation period lasts for between 24 and 25 days.
A typical clutch laid by an oriental scops-owl contains between three and four plain white eggs. No information is available about the size of eggs for this species.
Bonds that form between oriental scops-owl pairs in early spring last for the duration of the breeding season, with pairs separating once their single brood of young has reached independence.
Outside of the breeding season, they are a solitary species, and forage and roost alone. It is unknown how common it is for former mates to reunite in subsequent breeding seasons.
Oriental Scops-Owlet in nest cavity
Aggressive and hostile vocalizations may commonly be heard when oriental scops-owls sense a threat, using snarling and snapping to defend their territories.
As a nocturnal species, oriental scops owls spend much of the day roosting, with usual sites including natural hollows in trees, as well as tucked up close to a tree trunk or concealed by dense foliage in forests.
Oriental Scops-Owl, rufous morph, in-flight
Oriental scops-owls are partial migrants, with a resident range that extends across India’s west and east coasts, the northern half of South East Asia, and across southern China.
To the north, in Siberia, Japan, the Korean peninsula, and northern China, oriental scops-owls are breeding visitors, present from late March to September/October. Post-breeding migration reaches destinations as far south as Malaysia and northern Indonesia.
Oriental scops-owls are native to east and south Asia and do not breed in the wild outside of the continent. Occasional vagrant visitors have been recorded in Alaska, but no breeding has taken place and they are not permanent residents anywhere in North America.
Arguably the world’s most instantly recognizable owl species (thanks possibly to the “celebrity” of Hedwig in the Harry Potter series), the snowy owl is a powerful and fearsome presence on Arctic tundra landscapes. It preys on lemmings and voles and will also successfully chase and capture much larger mammals and birds.
Despite being one of North America’s tiniest owls, the northern pygmy-owl has a reputation as being one of the most bloodthirsty, fearlessly hunting and carrying off prey up to three times its own size.
Great Horned Owl
An unmistakable species, the great horned owl is one of North America’s largest and heaviest owls, with clearly visible ear tufts on each side of the head. They are also among the most common and widespread owl species in much of the Americas, although sightings are rather rare due to their nocturnal lifestyle.
A common and widespread owl species across the eastern United States, the eastern screech-owl has adapted to survive in a diverse range of habitats, in both suburban neighborhoods and rural forested landscapes. Seemingly unfazed by human presence (at a distance), eastern screech owls readily roost in nest boxes hung in backyards.
Western screech-owls are a relatively widespread and abundant species in the western regions of North America, found in a range of habitat types from woodlands and suburban parks and gardens with mature tree cover to the arid mesquite landscapes of the Sonoran Desert.
One of North America’s tiniest owl species, flammulated owls are named for the flame-like markings that are present on their faces, back, wings and underparts. Their plumage allows them to blend into their forest habitats and remain elusive and rarely seen.
Great Gray Owl
Unmistakable due to their sheer size, great gray owls are the largest North American owls in terms of size but not the heaviest. This honor goes to the snowy owl, which is on average at least 10 cm shorter in length and more than 1 kg heavier.
Unique among North America’s birds, burrowing owls are the only species on the continent that nest and roost below the ground. Usually, an abandoned prairie dog burrow is used, but occasionally they will excavate their own tunnel that extends deep into the soil.
A small owl, resident in northern taiga landscapes, boreal owls are widespread but are rarely seen due to their favored habitats of dense coniferous and mixed forests, their secretive behavior and their nocturnal hunting habits.
Originally confined to forests and uplands in eastern North America, the barred owl has extended its range into the Pacific Northwest in recent decades and is now widespread across southern Canada. Their well-known ‘Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’ call can be heard resounding through woodlands in early spring.
North America’s smallest owl species, elf owls are widespread across the desert landscapes of the US-Mexico borders. Cavities in saguaro cacti are one of their favorite nesting spots, although they are also likely to use abandoned woodpecker hollows in trees, fence posts and utility poles in more urban settings.
Spotted owls are a species of intense conservation concern across North America. Numbers have declined steeply since the increase in logging activities across the Pacific Northwest from the 1970s onwards. Populations have now reached worryingly low levels, with only an estimated 6000 to 15,000 individuals believed to remain in the wild.
The most widespread pygmy-owl species in South America, ferruginous pygmy-owls are tiny reddish-brown owls roughly the same size as an eastern bluebird. Thriving in both desert landscapes of the extreme southern US and in tropical rainforests of South America, they are a mostly diurnal species, hunting for insects and lizards between dawn and dusk.
Northern Hawk Owl
Found in northern regions of North America, northeastern Europe and Siberia, northern hawk owls are unusual among owls for being active during the day rather than the night. The species is also known for its hawklike behavior, flight and body shape.
Mottled owls are native to Central America and much of northern South America. Barely any records exist of the species within the United States although they are present in various regions of Mexico. A nocturnal hunter with a varied diet, the mottled owl preys on small rodents, birds, insects and small reptiles, scanning the forest floor from a perch, waiting for an opportunity to swoop.
A small, noisy owl that thrives in montane forests from Arizona to Nicaragua, the whiskered screech-owl is named for the tufted bristles on its face. A highly nocturnal bird, the first alert to the presence of a whiskered screech-owl is usually hearing its distinctive trilled song resounding through moonlit woodlands.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
One of the smallest owl species of North America, the northern saw-whet owl is common and widespread across coniferous and mixed species forests of Canada and the United States. However, its nocturnal habits and secretive behavior means that sightings remain rare and the species is not particularly well-studied.
One of the world’s least-documented owl species, the stygian owl has a dark plumage and is found in parts of Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Vagrant visitors have occasionally been recorded in Texas and Florida, but otherwise it is not usually spotted in much of North America.
The Eurasian Scops Owl is one of the smaller members of the Strigidae family of owls being smaller even than the Little Owl. It is one of the few European owls that leaves its breeding grounds and migrates south during the winter.
The Tawny Owl is a carnivorous night hunter common throughout Europe and western Asia with pockets found within the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. It shouldn’t be confused with the Tawny Fish-owl of East Asia, the Tawny-bellied Screech owl of South America nor the Tawny-browed owl found on the eastern side of South America. The tawny owl is also occasionally referred to as the Brown Owl.
Unlike most owls, this medium sized bird is often seen hunting during daylight hours, mainly around dawn and dusk and particularly across farmland and in grassland, marsh and moorland areas.
As well as its distinctive ear tufts, perhaps the most striking feature of a long-eared owl are its piercing bright orange eyes. However, as the UKs most nocturnal owl species, its rare that they are out in daylight hours, so itd be a really rare event to see one with your own eyes.
The Little Owl is the UK’s smallest bird of prey and a fascinating species to observe. Introduced over a century ago, these newcomers from the European mainland have become a regular sighting in farmland across much of England.
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