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9 Fascinating Facts About the Endangered Socotra Scops-Owl

The Socotra Scops-Owl, also called Otus socotranus, is a small and elusive nocturnal bird species native to the Socotra archipelago. Despite its small size, this bird is an essential part of the island’s ecosystem, playing an important role in controlling insect populations.

In this article, we will explore the bird’s identification features, its plumages and molts, as well as its similarities with other bird species.


The Socotra Scops-Owl belongs to the family of the Strigidae, commonly known as the true owls. It measures about 20 cm in length and is characterized by its large head and small ear tufts.

Its feathers are predominantly rusty-brown, with prominent white spotting on the wings and back. Its face is pale and framed by a dark ring.

The eyes are yellow and large, providing excellent night vision. The beak of the Socotra Scops-Owl is short and stout, making it suitable for feeding on insects and small rodents.



The Socotra Scops-Owl is difficult to spot in the wild as it prefers to hide in rocky crevices during the day. To spot this bird in the field, one has to listen for its distinct call, which is a series of soft, haunting hoots with a slightly rising inflection at the end.

Similar Species

The Socotra Scops-Owl can be easily confused with other members of the Strigidae family, such as the African Scops-Owl (Otus senegalensis). The African Scops-Owl is slightly larger and has a more prominent ear tuft than the Socotra Scops-Owl.

Unlike the Socotra Scops-Owl, which has rusty-brown plumage, the African Scops-Owl has a pale grey-brown plumage.


The Socotra Scops-Owl has two plumages, a breeding and non-breeding plumage. The breeding plumage is characterized by a rusty-brown plumage with white spotting and a more extensive white collar around the neck.

The non-breeding plumage is duller, with less white spotting on the wings and back and a less extensive white collar. The non-breeding plumage appears during the non-breeding season and lasts for several months.


Like most birds, the Socotra Scops-Owl undergoes molts. A complete molt occurs once a year, where the bird sheds and replaces all its feathers.

The complete molt occurs after the breeding season and before the non-breeding season. Alternatively, the Socotra Scops-Owl can experience a partial molt, which occurs twice a year, where the bird replaces some feathers but not all.


The Socotra Scops-Owl is a fascinating bird species that is critical to ecological balance in the Socotra archipelago. Its unique physical features make it easily identifiable in the wild, while its molts and plumages add to the bird’s complexity.

By reading this article, readers can understand more about the Socotra Scops-Owl’s significance to the environment and appreciate its beauty.

Systematics History

The Socotra Scops-Owl, scientifically known as Otus socotranus, is a species of owl that belongs to the family Strigidae. This bird species was first discovered in 1949 on the Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean.

The systematic classification of the Socotra Scops-Owl has undergone many changes over the years.

Geographic Variation

The Socotra Scops-Owl is endemic to the Socotra archipelago, located in the Arabian Sea. This bird species has a limited distribution range and is not found anywhere else in the world.

There is no significant geographic variation observed between populations of these birds across their range as the whole population shares a uniform morphological character.


Over the years, numerous attempts have been made to distinguish subspecies within the Socotra Scops-Owl based on their physical characteristics and range. Initially, P.

Johansen considered Otus gurneyi socotranus a subspecies of Otus gurneyi. Later, the species was reclassified as Otus socotranus, with subspecies Otus socotranus flagelliformis described from Abd al Kuri Island.

However, there is no clear evidence to support the validity of this subspecies as there are no significant differences observed between the two populations.

Related Species

The Socotra Scops-Owl is a member of the Otus genus, which comprises of over 50 species of small to medium-sized owls. This genus is distributed widely throughout the world, with species found in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

The closest relative of the Socotra Scops-Owl is the African Scops-Owl (Otus senegalensis). Despite their close relationship, the two species have never been known to hybridize, indicating a significant divergence in their evolutionary history.

Other members of the Otus genus that share some physical similarities with the Socotra Scops-Owl include the Eurasian Scops-Owl (Otus scops) and the Oriental Scops-Owl (Otus sunia), both of which have ear tufts characteristic of the genus.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Socotra Scops-Owl’s limited distribution range has likely been a factor in its classification history. The Socotra archipelago has experienced significant habitat modification following human settlement and commercialization.

It is estimated that about 85% of Socotra’s vegetation cover has been lost due to logging, grazing, fuelwood collection, and the introduction of invasive plant species. These activities have resulted in fragmentation and degradation of the bird’s natural habitat, reducing their population size and distribution range.

Historical changes to distribution have also been due to accidental human introductions. In the 1980s, a group of goats was introduced to Abd al Kuri Island, resulting in the loss of natural vegetation and the mass extinction of many endemic species, including Socotra Scops-Owls.

In the early 2000s, the Socotra Scops-Owl disappeared from Socotra Island, probably due to climatic changes that affected the island’s ecosystems. Currently, the Socotra Scops-Owl can only be found on the small islands of the Socotra archipelago, namely, Samhah, Darsa, and Abd al Kuri.


In summary, the systematic classification of the Socotra Scops-Owl has undergone several changes over the years, with limited evidence to support the distinction of subspecies within the species. The Socotra Scops-Owl is endemic to the Socotra archipelago and has a close evolutionary relationship with the African Scops-Owl.

Historical changes in the distribution range of the Socotra Scops-Owl have been driven by human activities, accidental introductions and climate change. Understanding the species’ classification, distribution, and history are key to conservation efforts aimed at protecting the bird species.


The Socotra Scops-Owl is a nocturnal bird species that occurs exclusively in the Socotra archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean. It is endemic to these islands and is found in a range of habitats, including rocky canyons, cliffs, and mountains.

The bird also inhabits areas around human settlements, such as farms and gardens, but requires undisturbed vegetation cover and darkness to thrive.

The Socotra Scops-Owl nests in the cavities of large trees, cracks in rocks, or caves.

The nesting sites are usually located in areas with little natural light and are chosen for their secluded location and protection from predators. The bird’s diet consists mainly of insects, small rodents, and other small animals that it hunts at night.

Movements and Migration

The Socotra Scops-Owl is a non-migratory bird species that remains within its restricted geographic range throughout the year. These birds prefer nocturnal movements and are active mainly during the evening and predawn hours.

During the breeding season, males can be seen conducting territorial calls to advertise their presence to females within their home range.

The Socotra Scops-Owl has a weak and unstable flight that involves flapping the wings rapidly and gliding for short distances.

The bird is not a strong flier and spends most of its time perched in trees or rocky ledges. Its small size and camouflage coloration make it difficult to spot in its natural habitat.

Conservation Implications

The Socotra Scops-Owl is listed as a species of conservation concern, and its distribution range and population size are declining due to habitat loss and human disturbance. The bird’s limited geographic range makes it particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic activities such as logging, grazing, and urbanization.

The introduction of alien plant species, such as Prosopis juliflora, has altered the bird’s preferred habitats, further reducing its population size.

Conservationists have identified the need to protect the remaining habitat of the Socotra Scops-Owl and restore degraded areas.

Habitat restoration involves removing invasive plant species, re-establishing native vegetation, and enhancing the habitat’s structural complexity. It is also important to raise awareness of the bird’s conservation status among local communities and encourage them to participate in habitat restoration and conservation efforts.


Conclusion, the Socotra Scops-Owl is endemic to the Socotra archipelago and requires undisturbed vegetation cover and darkness to thrive. Although the bird is non-migratory, it is still vulnerable to habitat loss, disturbance, and other human activities.

Protecting the bird’s habitat and raising awareness of its conservation status are essential for its long-term survival.

Diet and Foraging

The Socotra Scops-Owl is a nocturnal predator that feeds on a wide variety of small prey items, including insects, spiders, small mammals, and lizards. The bird typically hunts during the night, using its excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey.


The Socotra Scops-Owl uses its talons to catch prey, and its short, stout beak helps it kill and manipulate prey items before swallowing them whole. These birds have powerful digestive systems and can digest hair, feathers, and bones.

After consuming prey, the bird regurgitates pellets made up of undigested bones, hair, and other indigestible materials.


The Socotra Scops-Owl’s diet varies according to the seasons and the availability of prey. During the breeding season, these birds prefer insects, such as beetles, moths, and crickets, which are abundant throughout the island.

During the non-breeding season, when insects are scarce, the bird’s diet shifts to small mammals and lizards.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Socotra Scops-Owl is capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures of its habitat due to its metabolic adaptations. These birds have a high basal metabolic rate, which allows them to conserve energy during periods of low food availability.

The bird’s feathers also help maintain an optimal body temperature by providing insulation during cold nights and reflecting sunlight during hot days.

Sounds and Vocal


The Socotra Scops-Owl is a reasonably vocal bird species that emits distinct calls used for communication and territorial purposes. The bird has a range of vocalizations, including whistles, trills, and hoots, that are used to attract mates, warn off predators, and establish territorial boundaries.


The most common calls emitted by the Socotra Scops-Owl are a series of low hoots with a slightly rising inflection at the end. These hoots are repeated several times and are usually given at night, as the bird is preparing to begin its nocturnal foraging activities.

Males use these hoots to establish territories and attract mates during the breeding season. Females, on the other hand, emit soft clucking sounds to maintain contact with their young and locate their nest sites.


Conclusion, the Socotra Scops-Owl is a nocturnal predator that feeds on a variety of small prey, with most of its hunting and foraging activities occurring at night. The bird’s diet is seasonal and dependent on the availability of prey, while its metabolic adaptations allow it to regulate body temperature in extreme climatic conditions.

The bird is vocal and emits a variety of calls used for communication and territorial purposes, with males using hoots to establish territories and attract mates. It is important to understand the bird’s vocal behavior, diet, and foraging habits for its long-term conservation and management.


The Socotra Scops-Owl is a solitary bird that spends most of its time perched on trees or rocky ledges. It is a skilled hunter, using its excellent vision and hearing to locate prey in the dark.

The bird moves by hopping and gliding short distances, using its talons to grasp branches and other objects for support.

Self Maintenance

The Socotra Scops-Owl maintains its feathers and claws by preening, a process in which it uses its beak to lick and align the feathers. Preening is essential for waterproofing the feather coat, removing parasites and maintaining plumage integrity.



The Socotra Scops-Owl is solitary in nature and defends its territory aggressively. The bird uses various aggressive displays when confronted with other individuals, including posturing, wing-spreading, and vocalizing.



The Socotra Scops-Owl breed during the monsoonal period, which occurs between February to March. During the breeding season, males occupy territories and use a variety of vocalizations to attract mates.

After mating, the female lays one to two eggs in the cavity of a tree or rocky ledge, which they incubate for approximately 30 days.


The breeding behavior of the Socotra Scops-Owl is not well documented. After hatching, the chicks are kept in the nest for two to three months before they fledge.

During this time, the parents provide food for the young, which are known to call out to their parents for feeding. The young birds become independent after six months of age.

Demography and Populations

The Socotra Scops-Owl is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The bird’s population size is declining rapidly due to habitat loss and degradation, resulting from logging, agriculture, and human settlements.

Despite efforts to conserve the bird’s habitat, the Socotra Scops-Owl remains critically endangered. The bird’s range has shrunk to the small islands of the Socotra archipelago, where habitat loss and degradation remain major threats to its population.

Research on the demography and populations of the Socotra Scops-Owl is limited, but ongoing efforts by conservationists to monitor the bird’s population size and trends may increase our understanding of the bird’s conservation status. Conservation efforts such as habitat protection, restoration, and education on the importance of the species to the ecosystem and local communities are essential for the long-term survival of the Socotra Scops-Owl.


Conclusion, the Socotra Scops-Owl is a solitary bird that spends most of its time perched on trees or rocky ledges. The bird defends its territory aggressively and breeds during the monsoon period, laying one to two eggs in the cavity of a tree or rocky ledge.

The bird’s population size is declining rapidly due to habitat loss and degradation, and conservation efforts to protect its habitat, monitor populations, and raise awareness are crucial for its long-term survival. Overall, the Socotra Scops-Owl is a fascinating and unique bird species that requires protection and conservation efforts to survive.

The bird’s limited geographic range, specialized habitat requirements, and vulnerability to anthropogenic activities make it an endangered species. Understanding the bird’s taxonomy, behavior, ecology, and conservation status is crucial for conservationists, bird enthusiasts, and policymakers to ensure its long-term survival.

By implementing habitat restoration efforts, raising awareness of the bird’s conservation status among local communities, and monitoring the bird’s populations, we can work together to protect and preserve the Socotra Scops-Owl for future generations.

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