Seychelles scops-owl (Otus insularis)

Also known as: syer
Synonyms: Otus magicus insularis
Spanish: Autillo de Seychelles
GenusOtus (1)
SizeLength: 21 – 23 cm (2)
Wingspan: 40 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

This small forest owl was declared extinct in 1958, before it was rediscovered in 1960 (2). This oversight could have been due to its cryptic plumage, which blends well with the branches on which it perches. The Seychelles scops-owl is dark brown-chestnut, mottled with black and pale brown, and barred on the back. The underparts and round face have a faint rufous colouring. The large, golden yellow eyes provide excellent vision, and the powerful, yellow legs and sharp, black claws ensure they are proficient night time predators. Juveniles are slightly paler than adults, and heavily barred, with less black streaking (2). This owl is rarely seen, but may be recognised by its distinctive call, a deep, rhythmic, saw-like waugh call, typically heard soon after dusk or just before dawn (4) (5).

Occurs only on Mahé Island in the Seychelles (4).

The Seychelles scops-owl inhabits forests of native and introduced tree species, on upper slopes and in valleys, often shrouded in mist and usually close to a water source. It may once have occurred to sea level, and is still sometimes reported from lowland regions with suitable habitat, but generally occurs above 200 meters (4) (6) (7).

Like most owls, the Seychelles scops-owl is nocturnal and is only encountered during the day if it is disturbed at its roost. It has been observed to appear from beneath rocks suggesting this is where they roost. During the night, their acute hearing and large forward-facing eyes enable them to prey on lizards, insects, and possibly tree-frogs, which are common in their habitat. They also consume some vegetation (2).

During mating, the Seychelles scops-owl apparently emits a high-pitched whistle. This is often heard during the wetter months, from October to April, when food supply is highest and most Seychelles land birds breed (2). Fledged young have been seen in November and June, suggesting either a twice-yearly breeding cycle, or perhaps a very extensive breeding season (2) (4). The nest, which was not discovered until 1999, is situated in tree holes between seven and 25 meters. A single egg is laid, which is unusual for scops-owls which normally lay two, but characteristic of Seychelles land birds (6).

The greatest threat to the Seychelles scops-owl may be the loss of suitable habitat (2). Scops-owl territories at lower altitudes or outside protected areas are under threat from forest clearance for housing development and timber exploitation. Ecotourism and the associated disturbance of luring the scops-owl into view by playing recordings of its call may also affect some populations (5). Other potential threats include introduced predators, such as cats, rats and barn owls (2), although the impact they may have on the scops-owl is yet to be determined (5) (7).

The Seychelles scops owl is listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that any trade in this species should be tightly controlled (3). It is also protected by law in the Seychelles under the Wild Animals and Bird Protection Act (5). A large proportion of the scops-owl’s range lies within the Morne Seychellois National Park; the planned creation of a second protected area south of this National Park would result in approximately 80 percent of its range being protected from development and habitat loss, and would greatly improve the species’ protection (7). A monitoring programme was set up in 1997, but as yet no information on population trends is available. It is important that monitoring of the population continues long-term (7). The first baseline survey of this species was conducted in 2000 and 2001, and resulted in the Seychelles scops-owl being downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2004, on the basis of population size (1) (7).

For further information on this species and its conservation see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (12/07/07) by Dr Justin Gerlach, Scientific Co-ordinator, The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)