Scops Owl

Otus scops

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.

Other names:

Eurasian Scops Owl, European Scops Owl

Scops Owl

Family:

Owls

Length:

19cm to 21cm

Wingspan:

47cm to 54cm

Weight:

65g to 135g

What does a Scops Owl look like?

The scops owl has two different morphs with the most common being predominantly grey brown in colour with a paler face and underparts. The facial disc is grey with dark brown edging and a pale grey V shape above the bill and between the eyes, extending upwards towards the back of the crown, to the ear tufts. Bisecting this grey V shape is a narrow dark brown stripe running from the cere, where the beak meets the face, up to the cap and beyond. There is a dark grey brown area immediately surrounding the bright yellow eyes with pale almost white thin eyebrows above. The breast, belly and flanks are a pale greyish brown with a randomly patterned light buff mottling and prominent black or dark brown vertical streaks. The upper parts are mainly grey brown with streaks and bars. The overall patternation and colour of the grey morph scops owl provides an excellent camouflage for the bird, particularly when set against a backdrop of tree bark. The rufous morphed variant is similar in patternation and markings but with the grey brown colouration substituted for the reddish brown or rufous hue.

Scops Owl

Scops Owl

What does a Scops Owl sound like?

Males and females vocalise often calling to each other with a mid to low toned single or repeated note of ‘kyo – kyo’. One of the best descriptions of this relatively unique sound is to liken it to the sonar ping heard in submarine films when the vessel is being tracked by a surface ship, although the bird’s call is not always pitched as high.

Scops Owl call

Lander Goñi, XC543106. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/543106.

Scops Owl

Scops Owl with its head sticking out of a tree

What does a Scops Owl eat?

The scops owl will sometimes forage for food whilst on the ground but more commonly will swoop down from its perch and grab its prey with its claws. A diet of large insects is its favourite meal although it will also take earthworms and small reptiles, mammals and birds.

Scops Owl

Scops Owl feeding

Distribution

The Eurasian scops owl (otus scops) breeds in southern Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean and eastwards into west and central Asia. It is polytypic in that it has four subspecies mainly limited to specific geographical areas as follows:

  • Otus scops cycladum - Greece, S Asia Minor, Jordan & Israel
  • Otus scops mallorcae - Mainland Spain, Balearic Islands, N W Africa
  • Otus scops pulchellus - Russia, Kazakhstan & N W China
  • Otus scops turanicus - Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, N W Pakistan

There is a further member of the family of the Eurasian Scops Owl, namely the Eurasian Scops Owl (Cyprus) – (otus scops cyprius), that is monotypic, which is to say it has no subspecies neither is it itself a subspecies and is found only on the island of Cyprus. Apart from a limited number of birds breeding around southern coastal regions of the Mediterranean and its islands, scops owls migrate during the winter to sub-Saharan Africa and western Indian (dependent upon their breeding location).

Scops Owl

Perched Eurasian Scops Owl

Signs and Spotting tips

As previously stated, the call of the scops owl is very distinctive and easily recognisable albeit that the sound may be heard, but the creature may well remain hidden. They prefer to frequent fairly open wooded broadleaf areas or coniferous forests and will even populate orchards or parks in suburban regions. They are predominantly nocturnal and are more likely to be seen at dusk during the summer within their breeding grounds.

Scops Owl

European Scops Owl

Breeding

Nesting takes place in tree cavities, buildings or walls and occasionally old nests abandoned by other bird species. One brood of between 2 – 6 plain white eggs is laid between March to August, dependent upon location, and incubated by the female for an average of twenty five days. The young leave the nest up to thirty days later.

Scops Owl

Scops Owl nest with owlet

How long do Scops Owls live for?

Life expectancy for a Eurasian scops owl is up to ten years.

Similar birds to a Scops Owl

Other birds in the Owls family