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African Scops Owl - Otus senegalensis

Calls - Otus senegalensis
Typical call Yemen © Dave Farrow

Introduction: The African Scops Owl is a very small owl with small, well developed ear-tufts that are blade-shaped when erected. Grey and brown morphs are known to exist.

[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: Colour and patterns of this species vary individually. The facial disc has fine vermiculations and a dark rim. Eyes are yellow, and the bill blackish-horn. The crown and forehead have relatively broad shaft-streaks. The ear-tufts are small, but well developed.
Upperparts are grey or brownish, with darker streaks and fine vermiculations. The feathers of the mantle and upperwing-coverts are often edged rufous. The scapulars have whitish areas forming a white band across the shoulder. The flight and tail feathers are barred dark and pale, with the outer webs of the primaries having large white spots.
Underparts are similar in colour to the upperparts, but often paler, with dark streaks and fine vermiculations.
Tarsi are feathered to the base of the toes, which are dusky greyish-brown in colour. Claws are blackish-brown.

Size: Length 16-19cm. Wing length 117-144mm. Tail length 58-63mm. Weight 45-100g. Females are normally heavier than males.

Habits: The African Scops owl is a nocturnal bird, roosting during the daytime in dense foliage, against a branch or tree trunk, or in a hole. Pairs may roost close to one another, or even in a loose colony.

Voice: A short, frog-like purring trill - "Krurrr", each note lasting 0.5-1 second. This call is given in long sequences at intervals of 5-8 seconds.

Hunting & Food: Mainly feeds on insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, moths and crickets, but occasionally takes spiders, scorpions and small vertebrates such as rodents, frogs, geckos and small birds. Hunting is generally done from a perch, with the owl swooping to the ground to seize prey. Insects are also hawked in flight.

Breeding: The African Scops owl is monogamous. Normally nests solitarily, but several pairs may nest close to one another, with each pair claiming its own small territory. During courtship, the male and female may be heard dueting. The male advertises potential nesting sites to the female by singing from the entrance of a tree hole, often one made by a woodpecker. If the female accepts the site, she roosts in it during the daytime. 2-3 white eggs are laid directly on the floor of the nest hole. The female incubates them alone, while the male supplies the food. The male normally roosts near the nest, singing briefly after sunset before leaving the daytime roost, and the female often answers from the nest hole.
Incubation starts with the second egg and lasts about 24 days. The chicks' eyes open three days after hatching. They are fed by the female with food brought by the male until they are 18 days old, after which both barents feed them. At about 3-4 weeks the young leave the nest, and soon begin to catch prey, but are fed by both parents until they are 60 days old. Adult plumage is achieved at the age of 40-80 days, and sexual maturity is reached at eight months.

Habitat: Savanna with scattered trees and thorny shrubs, semi-open woodland, park-like areas, gardens with some mature trees, and forest clearings. This owl is is generally found below 2000m elevation.

Distribution: Africa south of the Sahara, including Annobón Island off the coast of Gabon. Partly absent from the densely forested areas of the continent.

Distribution of African Scops Owl - Otus senegalensis
Distribution of the African Scops Owl Otus senegalensis

Status: Common.

Original Description: Swainson, William. 1837. The Naturalist's Library, Vol. 11, Ornithology, Birds of Western Africa, Part 1, p. 127-129

Subspecies: O. s. senegalensis, O. s. pamelae, O. s. feae, O. s. socotranus, O. s. nivosus


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
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". 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 2013-09-06 Owl Species ID: 030.230.000

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