The Scops Owl: Night’s Tiny Sentinel – Facts and Insights



Scops Owl

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Of the many owl species that grace our planet, the Scops Owl stands out, not for its size but for its petite stature and distinctive features.

Dive into the fascinating world of the Scops Owl, a nocturnal bird that, despite its modest size, holds its own in the vast avian kingdom.

What Does a Scops Owl Look Like?

  • Size: The Scops Owl is a small owl, typically measuring between 15 to 20 cm in length.
  • Weight: They usually weigh between 60 to 135 grams, depending on the specific subspecies and their diet.
  • Appearance: They possess ear tufts that are often raised vertically, and their plumage varies, usually mimicking the bark or leaves of their habitat, providing them with excellent camouflage.

Physical Appearance

The Scops Owl is one of the smaller members of the owl family, with a length ranging from 19 to 21 cm and a wingspan of 47 to 54 cm. It weighs between 65 to 135 grams.

The Scops Owl has two different morphs, with the most common being predominantly grey-brown in color with a paler face and underparts. It has a grey facial disc with dark brown edging and a pale grey V shape above the bill and between the eyes, extending upwards towards the back of the crown, to the ear tufts.

It also has a narrow dark brown stripe running from the cere, where the beak meets the face, up to the cap and beyond. The breast, belly, and flanks are a pale greyish-brown with a randomly patterned light buff mottling and prominent black or dark brown vertical streaks. The upper parts are mainly grey-brown with streaks and bars.

The rufous morphed variant of the Scops Owl is similar in patternation and markings, but with reddish-brown or rufous coloration. The overall patternation and color of the Scops Owl provide excellent camouflage for the bird, especially when set against a backdrop of tree bark.

What Does a Scops Owl Sound Like?


Males and females of the Scops Owl vocalize often, often calling to each other with a mid to low toned single or repeated note of ‘kyo – kyo’. One can liken this sound to the sonar ping heard in submarine films when the vessel is being tracked by a surface ship, although the bird’s call is not always as high pitched.

What Does a Scops Owl Eat?

  • Dietary Habits: Their diet mainly consists of insects, but they’ll also consume small mammals, birds, and other invertebrates.
  • Hunting Technique: Like other owls, they employ stealth, using their camouflaged plumage to sit and wait for prey, swooping down to capture it when the moment is right.

Feeding Habits

The Scops Owl primarily feeds on large insects, but it will also consume earthworms, small reptiles, mammals, and birds. It will sometimes forage for food on the ground, but more commonly, it will swoop down from its perch and grab its prey with its claws.


  • Spread: Scops Owls are found in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
  • Habitat Preference: They primarily inhabit open woodland, gardens, and groves, often near human settlements. Their choice of habitat offers a blend of shelter and hunting grounds.

Breeding Range

  • Mating: Scops Owls are generally monogamous, forming pair bonds that can last several breeding seasons.
  • Nesting: They often use tree holes or cavities, sometimes taking over old nests of other birds.
  • Offspring: They lay 3-6 eggs on average, which are incubated mainly by the female while the male provides food.
  • Lifespan: In the wild, they can live up to 10 years, though many don’t reach this age due to various natural threats.

The Eurasian Scops Owl breeds in southern Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean, and extends eastward into west and central Asia. It has four subspecies, each mainly limited to specific geographical areas. These include:

  • Otus scops cycladum – Greece, South Asia Minor, Jordan & Israel
  • Otus scops mallorcae – Mainland Spain, Balearic Islands, Northwest Africa
  • Otus scops pulchellus – Russia, Kazakhstan & Northwest China
  • Otus scops turanicus – Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Northwest Pakistan

There is also a separate subspecies, the Eurasian Scops Owl (Cyprus) – (otus scops cyprius), that is found only on the island of Cyprus.

  • Camouflage Masters: Their plumage offers exceptional camouflage against tree barks, making them difficult to spot during the day when they roost.
  • Vocal Calls: Scops Owls have a repetitive, singular call that can be used to identify them. This call is often heard during the breeding season.

Migration Patterns

Apart from a limited number of birds breeding around southern coastal regions of the Mediterranean and its islands, Scops Owls migrate during the winter to sub-Saharan Africa and western India, depending on their breeding location.

While many Scops Owl populations are stable, habitat destruction and the use of pesticides, which reduce their prey availability, are potential threats. Efforts are being made in various regions to monitor and conserve their habitats.

Signs and Spotting Tips

Distinctive Call

The call of the Scops Owl is very distinctive and easily recognizable, although the bird may often remain hidden. The best time to hear their calls is at dusk during the summer within their breeding grounds.

Preferred Habitats

Scops Owls prefer to frequent fairly open wooded broadleaf areas or coniferous forests. They can also be found in orchards or parks in suburban regions. They are predominantly nocturnal but are more likely to be seen at dusk during the summer in their breeding grounds.

With a geographical distribution spanning continents, the Scops Owl is as diverse as it is interesting. Expand your knowledge with insights into the Eastern Screech Owls, or dive into the world of the majestic Great Horned Owl. The Short-Eared Owl, with its unique habits, is also worth a look. And for a foundational understanding of all things owl, our Guide to Owls is the way to go.


Nesting Behavior

Nesting for Scops Owls takes place in tree cavities, buildings, walls, or occasionally in old nests abandoned by other bird species. The female Scops Owl lays one brood of between 2 to 6 plain white eggs between March and August, depending on the location.

Incubation and Fledging

The female incubates the eggs for an average of 25 days. The young leave the nest up to 30 days later.


Average Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for a Eurasian Scops Owl is up to ten years.

Similar Birds to a Scops Owl

Little Owl

The Little Owl, another member of the owl family, is the UK’s smallest bird of prey. It was introduced over a century ago and has become a regular sighting in farmland across much of England.

Tawny Owl

The Tawny Owl is a carnivorous night hunter common throughout Europe and western Asia. It is often referred to as the Brown Owl and shouldn’t be confused with other species of owls with similar names.

Other Owls in the Family

Short-Eared Owl

Unlike most owls, the Short-Eared Owl is often seen hunting during daylight hours, mainly around dawn and dusk. It is commonly found in farmland, grassland, marsh, and moorland areas.

Long-Eared Owl

The Long-Eared Owl is known for its distinctive ear tufts and has piercing bright orange eyes. Although it is the UK’s most nocturnal owl species, it is rare to see one during daylight hours.

Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is the most widespread owl species, found on every continent except Antarctica. It occurs as 32 subspecies and is known for its distinctive heart-shaped facial disc.

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