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Whiskered Screech Owl - Megascops trichopsis

Formerly Otus trichopsis

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Calls - Megascops trichopsis
Typical call Mountains south of Patagonia, Arizona, January 1997 © Greg Clark
Soft, hollow hoot Mountains south of Patagonia, Arizona, January 1997 © Greg Clark

Introduction: The Whiskered Screech Owl is a small screech owl with small ear-tufts. It occurs in a grey and red morph, with the red morph being more common in the south of its range. It has also been called the Spotted Screech Owl.

[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]

Description: Grey Morph: The facial disc is light greyish, with indistinct darker concentric lines around the relatively large, yellow eyes. It has a distinct blackish rim. There are long, wispy whiskers at the base of the beak. Cere and beak are dark grey. Ear-tufts are short, and only prominent when erected.
Upperparts are greyish to brownish grey with blackish shaft-streaks and dark horizontal branches, also with fine wavy patterns. The crown and back have broad blackish shaft-streaks and dark vermiculations. Scapulars have white outer webs with blackish edges, forming a white line across the shoulder. Wings and tail feathers are barred light and dark. Underparts are lighter than the upperparts, with broad, blackish shaft-streaks, especially on the upper breast.
Legs are feathered to the base of the bristled, greyish-brown toes. Talons are greyish-horn with darker tips.
Red Morph: Similar to grey morph but less prominently patterned, and with general colouration rufous.

Size: Length 16.5-19cm. Wing length 132-160mm. Tail length 62-79mm. Weight 70-121g. Females are heavier than males.

Habits: Nocturnal. Shelters during the day close to a tree trunk or in dense foliage.

Voice: A-song is a series of equally spaced hoots bububububububub, mostly with emphasis on the third note, slightly falling in pitch at the end.
B-song is a hollow hooting, often uttered in duet with female: bububup, buru-bububup, similar to morse-code. The female's voice is slightly higher in pitch.

Hunting & Food: Preys mainly on insects and other arthropods, such as grasshoppers, locusts, praying mantises, crickets, beetles, moths, spiders and caterpillars. Will also take small vertebrates. Hunts insects by foraging between branches, less frequently from a perch.

Breeding: Little known. Nests in natural cavity, mostly abandoned woodpecker holes. 3-4 white eggs (average 33x27.6mm) are laid and incubated by the female alone. This probably happens during April. Male brings food to the nest during this time. After the young have hatched, the female shares the hunting. These birds are apparently very territorial, with territories averaging about 300 metres in diameter.

Habitat: Mountain forest (pine-oak woodland) from 750 - 2500 metres, usually above 1600 m.

Distribution: South east Arizona through Mexico to Nicaragua.

Distribution of Whiskered Screech Owl - Megascops trichopsis
Distribution of the Whiskered Screech Owl Megascops trichopsis

Status: Locally frequent.

Original Description: Wagler, Johann Georg. 1832. Isis von Oken, 25, col. 276-277.

Subspecies: M. t. trichopsis, M. t. aspersus, M. t. mesamericanus


Boyer and Hume. 1991. "Owls of the World". BookSales Inc
del Hoyo, Elliott & Sargatal. 1999. "Handbook of the Birds of the World: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds". Buteo Books
Johnsgard, Paul A. 2002. "North American Owls: Biology and Natural History". Smithsonian
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press
Mikkola, Heimo. 2012. "Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide". Bloomsbury
Voous, Karel H. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press

Page Information:

Page compiled by . Page last updated 2013-07-23 Owl Species ID: 040.060.000

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