Serendib scops-owl (Otus thilohoffmanni)

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Serendib scops-owl perched on branch
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Serendib scops-owl fact file

Serendib scops-owl description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderStrigiformes
FamilyStrigidae
GenusOtus (1)

The astonishing discovery of this tiny owl in 2001 in the southern rain forests of Sri Lanka stunned biologists around the world, representing the first new bird species to be identified in the country since 1868 (3). Ornithologist Deepal Warakagoda initially located the Serendib scops-owl in 1995 by its unfamiliar call, but it took a further six years of tracking this elusive and mysterious bird to eventually sight and photograph it. Thus, in 2001 it was confirmed that the owl appeared strikingly different from any other on the island or, indeed, anywhere in South Asia (4). This owl is small, short-tailed, uniformly reddish-brown, with eye-colour ranging from yellow to orange, but more orange in males (2). The bird lacks apparent ear-tufts present in most other species of scops-owl (Otus), its facial disc is only weekly defined, and only the very top parts of the lower leg are feathered (2). The owl roosts near the ground, where its colouration, size and shape camouflage it well amongst the dry and dead leaves (3).

Size
Height (crown to tail tip): c. 165 mm (2)
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Serendib scops-owl biology

Essentially a nocturnal bird of secretive habits that are little understood, with much inferred from vocalisation patterns. Vocalisation begins at dusk but the bird does not leave its roost to feed until darkness falls. During the first two hours of darkness the owl hunts in the undergrowth for beetles and moths, exploiting this time when there is no competition from other nocturnal birds, later moving to higher levels for the same prey. Vocal activity peaks again before dawn. Roosting near the ground, mated pairs appear to maintain territories year-round, and roost either together or apart (2) (5).

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Serendib scops-owl range

Endemic to Sri Lanka, found thus far only in the southwest quarter of the island (2) at Kitulgala, Kanneliya and Eratna-Gilimale Reserves, with its strongholds in the Sinharaja and Morapitiya-Runakanda reserves, which are contiguous (3).

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Serendib scops-owl habitat

Found in large tracts of lowland rainforest, within an altitudinal range of 30 to 530 metres (2).

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Serendib scops-owl status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Serendib scops-owl threats

By the end of January 2006, about 80 Serendib scops-owls were known to exist (5). Since the species has such a small population, and restricted range of just 230 square kilometres, the owl has been officially classified on the IUCN Red List as Endangered (2) (6). These are both declining due to habitat loss and degradation (3).

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Serendib scops-owl conservation

The Serendib scops-owl is found in five protected areas, each administered as a Forest Reserve or a Proposed Reserve by the Forest Department of Sri Lanka (2). However, further population surveys are required to better understand the abundance and distribution of this species, which for so long managed to elude detection in its forest home. Such studies would help guide effective conservation measures in the future to ensure that this mysterious owl, whose incredible discovery is a testament to one man’s perseverance and dedication, is never lost again.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on this species see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (20/01/2006) by Deepal Warakagoda, Ornithologist, Ceylon Bird Club, discoverer of the Serendib Scops-owl, Research Associate of the Global Owl Project.
http://www.globalowlproject.com

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Warakagoda, D.H. and Rassmussen, P.C. (2004) A new species of scops-owl from Sri Lanka. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 124(2): 85 - 105. Available at:
    http://www.globalowlproject.com/pdf/Otus-thilohoffmannii.pdf
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2005)
    http://www.birdlife.org/news/features/2004/07/scops-owl.html
  4. Van Loon, A.J. (2005) Two new owl species. Dutch Birding, 27(1): 81 - . Available at:
    http://www.dutchbirding.nl/journal/species.html#24
  5. Warakagoda, D. (2006) Pers. comm.
  6. World Owl Trust (November, 2005)
    http://www.owls.org/Information/newspecies.htm
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Image credit

Serendib scops-owl perched on branch  
Serendib scops-owl perched on branch

© Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
155 Model Farm Road
Colombo 8
Sri Lanka
gehan@jetwing.lk
http://www.jetwingeco.com

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