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European Scops Owl
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Otus
Species: Otus scops

The European Scops Owl (Otus scops), also known as the Eurasian Scops Owl or just Scops Owl, is a small owl. This species is a part of the larger grouping of owls known as typical owls, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the barn owls, Tytonidae. It is unlikely that this nocturnal owl would be found outside the breeding season when it is not calling.


Length: 19–21 cm (7.5–8.3 in)
Weight: 64-135 g (2.3- 4.8 oz)
Wingspan: 47–54 cm (19–21 in))

This is a small owl, not as large as the Little Owl and slightly larger than the Eurasian Pygmy Owl. The general of the proportions and size of this species largely depends on the position of the ear tufts. When the latter are lowered, they make the owl appear small, stocky and with a large head (in this way it could be confused with the Little Owl). With the ear tufts erect on the head (which many confuse with the ears), the strigid denotes a slender silhouette, with the head small and larger than it really is. Compared to the Little Owl it is more elongated and has a smaller and more flattened head.

The Scops Owl has a finely vermiculated and speckled greyish brown plumage, ranging from gray to chestnut brown under the wings with several white patches evident on the back. These color differences are known as color morphs, as occurs in Tawny Owls. There are Scops Owls of three different colors: a brownish-red morph, a gray one and an intermediate one. The eyes have a yellow iris, but with more intense colors than those of the Little Owl. On the underparts there are clearly visible black stripes.


The call is unmistakable: it is a deep, not particularly strong, somewhat nasal and almost always monosyllabic whistle ("tyuh"), which is often repeated for hours with an interval ranging from 2 to 3.5 seconds. Sometimes the main note is preceded by an initial sound, so much so that the call appears bisyllabic. The call of the Midwife Toad on the other hand sounds like a "ü" without modulation and seems clearer. Since the Scops Owl moves its head while singing, it is difficult to locate based on its calls. The singing activity begins shortly after sunset and ends at dawn; after midnight the bird's activity clearly decreases for an hour or two. Females and males often sing in duets, and the female calls in a slightly higher pitch and a little less regularly than the male.


This raptor usually lives alone, sometimes in small groups. The Scops Owl is a mostly nocturnal bird. The main point of its activity reaches its peak before midnight. A pause phase is usually initiated between 0 and 2 o'clock. At sunset or shortly after the owl begins its activity, at the first light of dawn it retreats to its always well concealed shelter and usually spends the day resting. Frequent preening breaks interrupt this rest period; sunbathing and dustbathing have been observed, albeit rarely. This species has a strong direct flight on long narrow wings, reflecting its migratory habits. It is clearly different from that of the Eurasian Pygmy Owl, which is bounding. In situations of threat, the Scops Owl assumes a position at great height, camouflaging itself. In such a position it remains motionless for a long time, allowing the potential enemy to approach. Only when it is very close does it take off, changing places and immediately resuming the mimetic posture. In the absence of escape possibilities, the Scops Owl displays a variety of aggressive postures and behaviour, such as hissing, blinking, or staring, which can result in direct attacks with its beak and talons.


The Scops Owl is a mainly insectivorous species. Cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets and beetles are among its preferred prey. This makes the bird very useful to agriculture. It also feeds on earthworms. To a lesser extent, it also hunts birds and reptiles, and occasionally mice or other small mammals. The prey is spotted from a low position and knocked to the ground. Only rarely does it hunt in flight or from the ground. The technique of capturing small birds is based on the "magnetism" (mainly the eyes) with which the bird, standing still, induces small birds to approach. It is the same phenomenon with which some owls were also used for hunting larks.


Scops Owls form monogamous seasonal pairings. Even in the case of premature loss of partners, a new mating occurs only rarely. The birds are already sexually mature by the age of 10 months. The Scops Owl nests mainly in tree hollows, occasionally also using cavities in cliffs and buildings. Broods in old nests of cranes and magpies have also rarely been found. The clutch, which consists mostly of three or five eggs, is incubated only by the female, whilst the male hunts for her. The female incubates the eggs them for 25 days and after hatching the chicks leave the nest after about 21-22 days and are usually cared for by both parents. Already at 40 days they are able to hunt prey independently, but are cared for by their parents for another 20 days. Then they leave the territory. Males and females use, even during offspring care, only rarely the same tree for sleeping and body contact has not been observed outside the mating season. The chicks roost close to each other on a branch close to the trunk.


In most of its breeding range, this owl is a migratory bird with wintering grounds in the wooded or shrubby savannas south of the Sahara. The migration begins in mid-August, with the youngest birds being the first to leave, and ends in late September. Small populations in southern Spain, southern Italy and southern Greece are sedentary. The Cyprus subspecies appears to be entirely resident. From the wintering areas, the Scops Owls return to their hatching areas no earlier than towards the end of March, but mostly in the second half of April. Even the non-European subspecies are mostly long-range migratory with wintering territories in East Africa. In recent years some studies have shown that in Italy some individuals prefer to winter in the southern and insular regions of the country (Sardinia and Sicily), avoiding the dangers of migration. This is possible due to global warming, which has made winters less severe.

Distribution and habitat

This bird breeds in southern Europe eastwards into western and central Asia. It is a primarily Mediterranean species most common in Spain, Croatia and Turkey. The population in France and Italy is more fragmented. Its populations in North Africa are also fragmented, being completely absent from Egypt and Libya.

In Central Europe its populations are small and sparse. In Switzerland, the once widespread population has now almost completely disappeared from the Lake Geneva area and central Valais. The same is true in Austria, where it inhabits only some basin environments in southern Styria and southern Carinthia. In Germany, a few are recorded every year during the breeding season (especially in Bavaria), but so far no cases of nesting have been proven. The northernmost breeding areas were located in Alsace, but they have been abandoned since 1986. However, every year a few individuals are recorded in the heart of Central Europe, so potential cases of nesting in the Rhine Valley and in the southern German Lands cannot be ruled out.

The Scops Owl is a thermophilic species that prefers open environments, sometimes even arid ones. Olive groves, pine forests, small clearings of ash trees, woods, tree-lined countryside, parks and gardens, in the plains and in the mountains up to the chestnut tree limit, even near human homes and cemeteries are suitable habitats. In the northern parts of the range it is found mainly on the mountain or hill slopes most exposed to the sun. During the six months of European winter it stays in the African savannas. During the day it rests, hiding among the branches of the trees.

The Scops Owl perches upright and shows small ear tufts. It is predominantly grey-brown in colour, with paler face, underparts and shoulder line.