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.
Eurasian Scops Owl, European Scops Owl
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 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.
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.
The little owl is quite common in many places, and is unique in that it often hunts during the day.