Common scops-owl (Otus scops)

Also known as: Eurasian scops-owl, European scops-owl
French: Hibou Petit-duc
GenusOtus (1)
SizeLength: 16 – 20 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

A superbly camouflaged species, the greyish, heavily marked plumage of the common scops-owl makes it almost indistinguishable when perched against the bark of a tree (4) (5). The underparts of this species are generally lighter than the upperparts and marked with black-brown streaks, thin bars and vermiculations (5). The head is crowned with two prominent ear tufts, while in contrast to the muted plumage colouration, the eyes are bright yellow (5) (6). There are currently five recognised subspecies of common scops-owl, which vary in geographical location, as well as strength of black markings and plumage colouration, exhibiting shades such as dark grey-brown, silvery grey and pale grey. The male produces a low, repeated, short whistle “tyeu”, while the female produces a higher pitched call (5).

The common scops-owl has a large range, encompassing southern Europe, parts of North Africa, Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia (2) (6) (7). Populations also occur locally in parts of Central and Eastern Europe (2) (6). Subspecies Otus scops cycladum inhabits Greece; Otus scops mallorcae occupies the Balearic Islands; Otus scops cyprius is found in Cyprus and Asia Minor; Otus scops.turanicus occurs in Turkmenistan south-east to western Pakistan; and Otus scops pulchellus is found in the Caucasus, east to the Tien Shan Mountains in Central Asia (6). During the winter, many common scops-owl populations make lengthy southward migrations to sub-Saharan Africa (5) (6).

The common scops-owl has a requirement for good tree cover, offering suitable sites for roosting and nesting, along with adjacent open ground in which to hunt. Consequently, it is found in open or semi-open broadleaved woodland, open coniferous forest, parks, orchards and plantations. At its African wintering grounds, this species occupies wooded savanna, tall grass and bushy scrub (5) (6). The common scops-owl can be found at a range of altitudes, typically from sea-level to elevations of around 2,000 metres, but as high as 3,000 metres in Pakistan (5).

A nocturnal species, during the day the common scops-owl conceals itself in the trees, camouflaged against the bark. If approached by a predator, this species further enhances its disguise, by stretching its body and even swaying back and forth to imitate a branch (4) (5). Insects, such as crickets, beetles and moths form the main part of this species’ diet, but it will also takes earthworms and spiders, along with occasional small birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Most hunting is carried out by swooping down upon prey from a perch, although this owl will also pull earthworms from the ground with its bill, and catch moths on the wing (5).

The common scops-owl breeds between March and August in southern Europe. Breeding pairs are usually monogamous, although polygyny does occasionally occur. The nests, which may be reused for several years, are located within tree cavities, holes in buildings, or sometimes in the abandoned nests of other bird species. Two to six eggs are laid and incubated for 24 to 25 days by the female. The young leave the nest at 21 to 29 days old, and are capable of flying at around 30 to 33 days, although parental care continues for a further five weeks. Migratory populations leave the breeding grounds from August onwards, sometimes travelling in family groups, and return in late March (5).

While the common scops-owl is not considered to be globally threatened, in Europe it has suffered a significant decline in range and population (1) (5). This has been attributed to changes in agricultural practices leading to a decrease in both habitat and prey availability. In addition, declines have also been linked to predation by the tawny owl (Strix aluco) (8).

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the common scops-owl (1). Recommendations have been made to implement land management practices in Europe that will help to prevent further decline in this species’ population and enable it to make a recovery (8).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)