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10 Fascinating Facts About the Black-Capped Screech-Owl

The Black-capped Screech-Owl, also known as Megascops atricapilla, is a small, nocturnal owl species that is found in North and Central America. Often difficult to observe due to their small size and secretive nature, these birds are unique and highly interesting creatures that are highly valued by bird enthusiasts.


Field Identification

Black-capped Screech-Owls are approximately 8-10 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 20 inches. They have a rounded head with no ear tufts and a black rim around their eyes.

The upperparts of their feathers are a grayish-brown, while their chest and abdomen are white in color. Their feet are covered in feathers, and their beaks are curved and yellowish.

Similar Species

Black-capped Screech-Owls are often confused with other screech-owl species, such as the Eastern Screech-Owl and the Western Screech-Owl. However, their black cap sets them apart from these species, as does their relatively larger size.


Black-capped Screech-Owls have three distinct plumages – juveniles, adults, and intermediate. Juvenile plumage features a buffy color on the underparts with wavy, brownish barring.

Their upperparts are gray and heavily spotted with white, and they lack the black cap found in adults. The adult plumage is similar to the juvenile plumage, but with the addition of the black cap on their head.

Intermediate plumage is a molt pattern that occurs when the bird has lost some of its body feathers but has not yet replaced them all, resulting in a mix of features from both juvenile and adult plumages.


Black-capped Screech-Owls undergo two molts each year – prebasic and prealternate. The prebasic molt, which occurs in the late summer to early fall, involves the replacement of all body feathers.

The prealternate molt, which occurs in the late winter to early spring, involves the replacement of breeding feathers. In conclusion, the Black-capped Screech-Owl is a fascinating bird species with unique features that make them stand out from other screech owl species.

Their three distinct plumages and molting patterns offer a wealth of information to bird enthusiasts, and their identification can be challenging but rewarding. To catch a glimpse of this elusive bird, you’ll need to find a good viewing spot in their natural habitat and listen for their distinctive call.

, as it is a technical article aimed at educating readers rather than persuading them.

Systematics History

The Black-capped Screech-Owl (Megascops atricapilla) was first described by ornithologist John Cassin in 1851, based on specimens collected in Veracruz, Mexico. The genus Megascops, which contains the screech-owls, was previously considered a subgenus of Otus, but was elevated to full genus status in the late 20th century based on genetic and morphological evidence.

Geographic Variation

Black-capped Screech-Owls exhibit geographic variation across their range, with birds in the northern and southern parts of their range differing slightly in their morphology and vocalizations. This variation has led to the recognition of several subspecies.


There are currently six recognized subspecies of Black-capped Screech-Owls:

– Megascops atricapilla atricapilla: Found in Mexico, from Tamaulipas south to Oaxaca. These owls have relatively large bills and are pale gray in color.

– Megascops atricapilla tolimae: Found in central Mexico, from Hidalgo south to Puebla and Morelos. These owls are smaller than the nominate subspecies and have a reddish-brown cast to their gray plumage.

– Megascops atricapilla sanctorum: Found on the Pacific slope of Mexico, from Sinaloa south to Guerrero. These owls are very similar to M.

a. tolimae but have a more uniform gray plumage.

– Megascops atricapilla mccallii: Found in southern Mexico, from Oaxaca south to Chiapas and Guatemala. These owls have a smaller bill than M.

a. atricapilla and are darker in color, with more distinct markings on their underparts.

– Megascops atricapilla mixtecus: Found in the mountains of Guerrero and Oaxaca, in southwestern Mexico. These owls are similar to M.

a. mccallii but have a paler face and forehead.

– Megascops atricapilla nigrescens: Found in Costa Rica and Panama. These owls have a darker and more uniform plumage than other subspecies, with a more prominent black cap.

Related Species

The Black-capped Screech-Owl is part of the Screech-Owl subfamily, which includes around 30 species distributed throughout the Americas. Despite their name, screech-owls are not known for their loud calls; instead, they produce soft trills and hoots.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Black-capped Screech-Owls were originally thought to be endemic to the mountains of eastern Mexico, from Tamaulipas to Oaxaca. However, their range has expanded in recent years due to habitat fragmentation and human development.

They are now found as far north as southern Arizona and New Mexico in the United States. The expansion of their range has also led to new challenges for conservation efforts.

Black-capped Screech-Owls are primarily threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, but they are also vulnerable to climate change and collision with man-made structures such as power lines and wind turbines. In conclusion, the Black-capped Screech-Owl displays geographic variation across its range, with several subspecies recognized.

Despite their relatively small range, their distribution has expanded in recent years due to habitat fragmentation and other factors. Conservation efforts must take into account these changes and mitigate threats to ensure the survival of this unique and interesting species.

, as it is a technical article aimed at educating readers rather than persuading them.


Black-capped Screech-Owls are primarily a species of neotropical mountains, found at elevations ranging from 600 to 3,000 meters above sea level. They inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including pine-oak, cloud, and deciduous forests.

In the northern part of their range, they can also be found in desert scrub and riparian areas. These owls are particularly attracted to rocky areas and cliffs, where they can roost and hunt.

They are also known to inhabit urban and suburban areas, particularly those with large trees and gardens.

Movements and Migration

Black-capped Screech-Owls are generally sedentary and do not undertake long-distance migrations. However, they may exhibit short-distance movements in response to changes in food availability or weather patterns.

During the breeding season, male Black-capped Screech-Owls will defend a territory of around 2-10 hectares, with territories occupied by several breeding pairs. They are monogamous and may mate for life, with both parents contributing to incubation and care of the young.

In the fall, juveniles may disperse from their parents’ territories, traveling short distances in search of suitable habitat. However, the extent of these movements is unclear, as there have been few studies on the dispersal patterns of Black-capped Screech-Owls.

Threats to

Habitat and Movements

The primary threat to Black-capped Screech-Owls is habitat loss and fragmentation due to deforestation, conversion of land for agriculture or urbanization, and logging. This is particularly concerning in the northern part of their range, where desertification is a significant issue.

Climate change may also pose a threat to these owls’ habitat, as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns could shift forest ecotones and reduce the availability of suitable roosting and hunting habitat. Another important issue affecting Black-capped Screech-Owls is collision with man-made structures such as powerlines, wind turbines, and buildings.

As more habitat is converted for human use, the risk of collisions with these structures increases, which can result in injury or death. Finally, predators such as snakes, raccoons, and larger owls may pose a threat to Black-capped Screech-Owls eggs and young.

Studies have shown that the presence of predators can reduce reproductive success and may limit the distribution of this species in some areas.

Conservation Efforts

To conserve Black-capped Screech-Owls, efforts are needed to protect and restore their habitat, particularly in areas where forest fragmentation is a concern. This can be achieved through measures such as protected areas, agroforestry programs, and sustainable logging practices.

Reducing the risk of collision with man-made structures is another important conservation goal, requiring measures such as marking powerlines, siting wind turbines carefully, and minimizing the impact of urbanization on forest habitat. Finally, more research is needed to understand the dispersal patterns, behavior, and ecology of Black-capped Screech-Owls.

This will help to inform conservation efforts and ensure that these unique and fascinating birds are protected for generations to come. In conclusion, conservation efforts must focus on protecting the habitat of the Black-capped Screech-Owl and mitigating threats such as habitat loss, fragmentation, collision with man-made structures, and predation.

By understanding the movements and behavior of these birds, we can better protect them and ensure their survival in the face of ongoing environmental challenges. , as it is a technical article aimed at educating readers rather than persuading them.

Diet and Foraging

Black-capped Screech-Owls are carnivorous, feeding primarily on invertebrates such as beetles, moths, and grasshoppers. They are also known to prey on small mammals such as mice, shrews, and bats, as well as small birds and reptiles.

Like other owls, they are nocturnal hunters, relying on their keen eyesight and acute hearing to locate prey in the dark.


Black-capped Screech-Owls locate prey by perching on branches or tree trunks and scanning their surroundings for movement. When prey is spotted, they swoop down and capture it with their talons, either on the ground or in mid-air.

They then return to a perch to consume their prey, using their sharp beaks to tear meat into small pieces that can be swallowed whole.


Black-capped Screech-Owls are opportunistic feeders and will consume a wide variety of prey depending on their availability. In areas with abundant invertebrate populations, they may focus more on these types of prey, while in areas with more mammals and birds, they may shift their diet accordingly.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Like all birds, Black-capped Screech-Owls are endothermic, meaning they are capable of internal temperature regulation. This is important for their hunting and foraging activity, as well as mating and nesting behaviors.

They maintain their body temperature by modifying their metabolic rates, which helps them to conserve energy while still staying active during periods of high and low environmental temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal


Black-capped Screech-Owls are known for their distinctive vocalizations, which are commonly heard throughout their range. Their calls are an important means of communication between individuals and may serve to establish territories, attract mates, or signal danger.


The vocalizations of Black-capped Screech-Owls are highly variable, but typically consist of a series of soft hoots or trills. These calls are often described as being musical or whistling in quality, with a rising and falling pitch that gives them a distinctive cadence.

In addition to their regular vocalizations, Black-capped Screech-Owls may also give alarm calls or other vocalizations in response to intruders or other sources of stress. These calls may be louder and more urgent than their regular calls, and may serve to alert other owls in the area to potential danger.


Black-capped Screech-Owls are fascinating birds with unique adaptations for hunting, foraging, and communication. Their diet and foraging strategies allow them to thrive in a variety of habitats, while their vocalizations are an important component of their social behavior.

By understanding these aspects of their biology, we can better appreciate the complexity and wonder of these small but mighty predators. , as it is a technical article aimed at educating readers rather than persuading them.


Black-capped Screech-Owls exhibit a range of behaviors related to locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic interactions, and sexual behavior.


Black-capped Screech-Owls move mainly by hopping and walking on the ground, as well as by climbing and flying. They have powerful feet with sharp claws, which enable them to cling to surfaces such as bark and rock.

Their wings are relatively short and rounded, which provides them with maneuverability in flight but limits their speed and long-distance flying ability.


Like most birds, Black-capped Screech-Owls spend a significant amount of time grooming and preening themselves. They use their beaks to clean and arrange their feathers, as well as to remove any parasites such as lice or mites.

This behavior is important for maintaining the condition of their feathers, which are necessary for regulating body temperature and facilitating flight. Agonistic


Black-capped Screech-Owls are territorial and will defend their nesting sites and feeding areas from other birds and predators.

They may engage in aggressive behaviors such as vocalization, wing spreading, and physical confrontation in order to protect their territory. Sexual


During the breeding season, males will establish territories and begin calling to attract females.

Courtship behavior may include mutual vocalizations, physical contact, and the presentation of food items. Once a pair bond has been established, the female will lay eggs in a cavity or nest site, which she will incubate with the male’s help.


Black-capped Screech-Owls are monogamous and mate for life, with pairs remaining together for many years.

Breeding typically takes place from February to July, with most activity occurring from late March to early June.

Nesting sites are typically located in tree cavities or other hidden places, with females laying 2-4 eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts around 26-30 days, with both parents responsible for incubating and caring for the young.

The chicks fledge around 28-30 days after hatching, but may remain dependent on their parents for several months after leaving the nest.

Demography and Populations

Black-capped Screech-Owls are widespread throughout their range, but their populations are thought to be in decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation. They are classified as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but are listed as a species of “Special Concern” in Mexico and as a state endangered species in parts of the United States.

Monitoring programs are needed to track the population status of Black-capped Screech-Owls, particularly in areas where habitat loss and fragmentation are a concern. Conservation efforts must focus on protecting and restoring their habitat, as well as reducing the risk of collision with man-made structures such as powerlines and wind turbines.

In conclusion, Black-capped Screech-Owls exhibit a range of behaviors related to locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic interactions, and sexual behavior.

Breeding behavior is important for the long-term survival of the species, but populations are under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation.

By understanding these behaviors and working to protect their habitats, we can help ensure the continued presence of these fascinating and highly valuable birds. The Black-capped Screech-Owl is a small but fascinating species, with unique behaviors, plumages, and vocalizations.

Their habitat is under threat from various environmental and human factors, and monitoring programs and conservation efforts are needed to ensure their continued survival. By understanding the Black-capped Screech-Owl’s diet, foraging behaviors, behavior related to self-maintenance, agonistic interactions, sexual behavior, demographic information, and populations, we can appreciate the complex and interconnected nature of this species and work to protect them for future generations.

The Black-capped Screech-Owl is a symbol of the resilience and adaptability of our planet’s biodiversity and is an essential part of our natural heritage.

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