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Unusual Screech Owl

Unusual Screech Owl. This Owl was found injured in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and brought to  St. Francis Wildlife Association in Tallahassee, Florida. It has most of the features of an Eastern Screech
Owl (Megascops asio) - ...

 

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This Owl was found injured in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and brought to St. Francis Wildlife Association in Tallahassee, Florida. It has most of the features of an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) - proper body weight, size, call and general appearance; however, it has the dark brown eyes and shorter ear tufts of the Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus).

Says Owl biologist Bruce Marcot:
"I have not had an opportunity to inspect the owl live, and the following comments are based on a quick review only of the photo. I'd be interested in what other owl biologists think.

Interesting bird. Although I wouldn't summarily discount either a rare hybrid or a bird well out of its range, it does seem to be an Eastern Screech Owl... although the eyes are indeed intriguing.

The bird has the usual Eastern Screech Owl markings on the feathers, including the facial disk and the black-edged white scapulars. Flammulated Owls, which do not range into southeastern U.S. by the way but are Neotropical migrants, have more ruddy edging to the scapulars.

The local subspecies of Eastern Screech Owl in coastal Alabama, however, is usually 'floridanus' and a red morph; however, the nominate race 'asio' could range there also, and it's the usual gray-brown as in the photos.

I would've expected to see the lower tarsi more feathered (i.e., down to the first 'knuckles' on the toes), but I'm not very familiar with this race; could be that the southern form is not as heavily feathered as the northern forms are, and that might make ecological sense, but it's just a supposition.

The eyes? Hmm, interesting. If I fiddle with gamma, brightness, and contrast on my PC, the eyes seem to have a dark yellow iris, maybe just an odd individual variant. I'd suspect this before I'd suspect a hybrid with Flammulated Owls for two reasons: Flams don't range to coastal Alabama, and Flams are more allied with Old World scops owls than they are New World screech owls so would be unlikely to hybridize with the latter (I've never seen or heard of such hybrids) ... but birds do unexpected things sometimes, don't they?"

Says Owl expert David Johnson:
"My take on it is that it is an Eastern Screech-owl as well.  I've seen largely unfeathered feet on Screech-owls from Louisiana.  The eyes really are a most interesting color."

Photographer: Bob Beck  © Copyright

 
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