The Owl Pages

Mottled Owl ~ Strix virgata (Ciccaba virgata)


The Mottled Owl is a medium-sized owl with a rounded head and no ear-tufts. Both light and dark morphs are known to occur.

Photo Gallery (7 pictures)

  • Mottled Owl
  • Mottled Owl
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  • Mottled Owl

Sound Gallery

Typical call - Chiapas, Mexico. March 2015. CC Frank Lambert.


Description: Light Morph: The facial disc is brown, with white eyebrows and whiskers. Eyes are dark brown. The cere is pale bluish-grey and the bill is pale bluish-grey to yellowish grey with a slight greenish tinge.
Upperparts are dark brown, flecked and sparsely barred whitish to pale buff. The outer webs of the scapulars are white, forming a whitish row across the shoulder. Flight feathers are dark brown, barred whitish or pale grey. The tail feathers are dark brown above, with 3-4 narrow whitish bars. Underparts are whitish to pale buff, mottled dusky at the sides of the breast. The rest of the underparts are streaked brown. Tarsi are feathered, and the toes are bare and coloured grey to yellowish-grey or brownish-grey. Claws are pale horn with darker tips.
Dark Morph: In general, darker with underparts darker yellowish-buff or ochraceous-buff with breast sides heavily mottled dark brown. Eyebrows and whiskers are less prominent.

Size: Length 30-38cm. Wing length 221-274mm. Tail length 128-178mm. Weight 176-345g. Females are heavier than males.

Habits: The Mottled Owl is nocturnal, becoming active at dusk. Roosts during the day among dense foliage of trees and thickets, within creepers rising up tree trunks, or in natural holes.

Voice: The territorial song of the male is a series of equally spaced, short guttural hoots with an explosive frog-like character - gwow gwow gwow gwow gwow gwot. This series is repeated at intervals of several seconds or more. The female often answers with a high whinny - wheeahrr. Both sexes give a series of resonant soft hoots when duetting. The Mottled Owl is said to have a large repertoire of other calls, including a deep barking sound.

Hunting & Food: The Mottled Owl feeds on small mammals (especially mice), reptiles, amphibians and insects and other arthropods. Probably takes small birds also. Hunting is normally from a perch, but may catch insects in flight.

Breeding: Breeding biology is little known. The male claims territory by singing. The nest is usually a natural hole in a tree, but sometimes it is an old nest of a larger bird. Eggs are laid from February-April in Costa Rica, February-May in Colombia and September-November in northeast Argentina. Generally 2 white eggs are laid and incubated by the female alone while the male provides the food.

Habitat: Primary and secondary humid forest, drier wooded areas, plantations and even thorny forest. Ranges from sea-level to about 2500m elevation. Most common in humid lowland forest.

Distribution: From Mexico south to Central America and forested South America, from Venezuela and Ecuador to northeast Argentina and southeast Brazil. Absent from the Pacific slope of the Andes south of Ecuador.

Range of Mottled Owl (Strix virgata)
Range of the Mottled Owl Strix virgata

Status: Uncertain, but locally common.

Original Description: Cassin, John. 1849. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science of Philadelphia (Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia) 4 (1848): p. 124.

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.
Duncan, James R.. 2003. "Owls of the World: Their Lives, Behavior and Survival". Firefly Books.
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.
Voous, Karel H.. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press.

See also: Other owls from North America, Central America, South America, Genus: Strix.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2015-11-01.