Common Scops Owl - Otus scops
Also known as Eurasian Scops Owl
Calls - Otus scops
Introduction: The Common Scops Owl is a small scops owl with cryptic plumage, relatively long wings, a short tail, and small erectile ear-tufts.
[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: The facial disc is greyish-brown, finely mottled with the rim not very prominent. Eyes are yellow, and the bill is grey. Ear tufts can be difficult to see when the plumage is held loose. When afraid, this owl becomes very slim, with ear-tufts erected straight.
Upperparts are greyish-brown with blackish streaks, the pattern resembling the bark of an old tree. The crown is similar, with blackish shaft-streaks. Scapulars are white on the outer webs, with a blackish central streak and black tip. The flight feathers are barred dark and pale, as is the short tail.
Underparts are also greyish-brown but somewhat paler than the back, with blackish shaft-streaks, and some thin cross-bars and dark vermiculations. Several of the shaft-streaks are much broader than the others and have heavier horizontal vermiculations.
Tarsi are feathered to the base of the toes, which are grey. Claws are greyish-brown with darker tips.
There is also a reddish morph of this owl, but it is very rare.
Size: Length 16-20cm. Wing length 145-168mm. Tail length 67-75mm. Weight 60-135g. Females are heavier than males.
Habits: The Common Scops Owl is a nocturnal bird, most active from after sunset to midnight. Roosts by day in trees, normally close to the trunk, or in dense foliage, cavities in mature trees or rocks, holes in walls and similar places. Evening activity usually begins with a quick call, either at the roosting place, or from a nearby perch. Occasionally, some notes may be heard from the roost during the daytime. Not normally a shy bird.
Voice: The song of the male consists of long sequences of single, monosyllabic flute-like notes with a downward inflection, lasting 0.2-0.3 seconds each, and separated by 2-3 seconds - kyoot kyoot kyoot kyoot... The unpaired female has a similar but more drawn-out and higher pitched song. When paired, the female utters high-pitched and slightly hoarse notes. During courtship, the male and female duet in a way the gives the impression of a two syllable song of higher and lower pitched notes.
The contact call is a soft phew note. When alarmed, both sexes utter a loud piercing kweeoh call, similar to that of a Little Owl.
Hunting & Food: The Common Scops Owl feeds mainly on insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, moths and cicadas. Spiders, caterpillars and earthworms are also taken, as well as small vertebrates such as small mammals, small birds, reptiles and frogs. They are often attracted to artificial lighting to capture moths and other insects that have settled nearby by swooping on them. Larger prey are normally caught by swooping on them from a perch. Small prey are taken with the bill, while larger prey are seized with the talons. Pellets average 25 x 20mm.
Breeding: For migrating populations, breeding season starts on return from winter quarters. For resident populations, such as southern Spain, the season starts in February. Males begin by calling on calm nights. The female answers and the birds start duetting. Mating is frequent after such duets. The male then flies to a potential nest cavity, enters and sings from the opening. Once the female has inspected and accepted the cavity, the pair will remain close by every evening. Nest sites include natural cavities in trees, rocks or walls, woodpecker holes in tree trunks or thick branches, or holes in steep banks of ditches or sandpits, even under roofs. Nestboxes are also accepted.
There is usually only one brood per year. Egg laying begins from late April or May to the first half of June, sometimes July. Normally 3-4 (sometimes 2-6) white eggs are laid directly on the bottom of the cavity at two day intervals. The eggs are rather spherical, averaging 31 x 27mm. Incubation begins with the second egg and is done by the female alone while the male provides the food. The eggs hatch after 20-31 days, depending on climate. The female broods and feeds the young for about 18 days, then leaves the nest to help the male bring in food. The chicks hatch blind, with their eyes beginning to open at 6-8 days and fully opened at 11-13 days. Regurgitation of pellets begins at about 6-9 days. At 3-4 weeks, the young leave the nest, landing on the ground and climbing up into trees or bushes by using their bill and claws, and flutter with their wings. At about 33 days, they are fully capable of flight. They are cared for and fed by both parents for a further 4-5 weeks before becoming independent. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of about 10 months.
Mortality: The maximum age recorded for a Common Scops owl is 12 and a half years.
Habitat: Semi-open or open country with scattered trees or small woods, cultivated areas with groups of trees, rocky landscapes, parks, avenues of trees along roads, gardens with mature trees, Mediterranean scrub and garrigue. In warm climates, they are also found in mountainous regions. This owl does not occur in dense forest. Winters mainly in savannas with trees.
Distribution: Southern Europe, locally in central, eastern and western Europe, and Africa north of the Sahara from Morocco to Tunisia, Asia Minor and eastwards to central Asia. Has been recorded breeding in southern Germany.
The Common Scops Owl is generally a migratory bird. European owls normally winter in the Savannas of east and west Africa, north of the rainforest. In Autumn, the owls leave their breeding areas between August and November, returning between March and late April, depending on the breeding area they are returning too.
Distribution of the Common Scops Owl Otus scops
Status: Rare in Central Europe, common in Mediterranean.
Original Description: Linnaeus, Carolis. 1758. Systema Naturae, ed. 10, p. 92.
O. s. scops,
O. s. pulchellus,
O. s. cyprius,
O. s. turanicus,
O. s. cycladum,
O. s. mallorcae
Page compiled by Deane Lewis. Page last updated 2013-08-08
OwlPages.com Owl Species ID: 030.240.000