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 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.
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 with its head sticking out of a tree
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 feeding
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:
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).
Perched Eurasian Scops Owl
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.
European Scops Owl
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 nest with owlet
Life expectancy for a Eurasian scops owl is up to ten years.
Eurasian Scops Owl, European Scops Owl
19cm to 21cm
47cm to 54cm
65g to 135g
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.
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.
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 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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