Bird O'clock

Discover the Little Bird with Big Attitudes: The Fascinating African Scops-Owl

The African Scops-Owl, or Otus senegalensis, is a small, nocturnal owl species native to sub-Saharan Africa. This striking bird may be small in size, but it makes up for it with its distinct plumage and vocalization.

While it may not be the easiest bird to spot in the wild, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike are often fascinated by this little predator. In this article, we’ll explore the identification, plumages, and molts of the African Scops-Owl.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the unique characteristics that make this bird so captivating.




The African Scops-Owl measures up to 20cm and weighs around 80g. They are known for their camouflaging coloration, which serves as excellent protection against predators.

Even though they are small, they have a bulky Mediterranean-hawk-like body, a round head, a small bill. Their most striking feature is their piercing eyes, which are bright yellow and stand out from the feathers around their face.

Their facial disc is a pale gray-brown color, with a black rim around the eyes. Their feathers are mainly rust-brown orange with buff and gray-brown coloration.

Similar Species:

When it comes to identifying the African Scops-Owl, it’s important to be aware of similar species. Some of the owls that might be mistaken for the African Scops-Owl are the Eurasian Scops-Owl, the Desert Owl, and the Pallid Scops-Owl.

However, one of the most important distinguishing features is their geography – the African Scops-Owl can only be found in sub-Saharan Africa.


The African Scops-Owl is often referred to as a “little bird with big attitudes.” This holds true when it comes to their plumages, too. While they do not have extravagant plumages, their feathers are unique in their own ways.

Adult African Scops-Owls have a reddish-brown coloration, with lighter feathers on their bellies and underwings. Juvenile African Scops-Owls, on the other hand, are much greyer in color.

The feathers around their face are striking – the black rims around their piercing yellow eyes create a fierce and captivating look.


Like many birds, African Scops-Owls molt their feathers. There are two molting periods for the African Scops-Owl: the pre-breeding molt and the post-breeding molt.

The pre-breeding molt occurs between December and February, and involves the replacement of feathers that have become damaged or worn. The post-breeding molt takes place between August and October, during which the birds replace all their feathers.

The molting period can be a vulnerable time for birds, and the African Scops-Owl is no exception. During this period, they may have difficulty flying and hunting.

Birdwatchers and conservationists alike should be mindful of avoiding disturbances during this time.


In summary, the African Scops-Owl is a unique and fascinating bird species. Its striking yellow eyes and camouflaging coloration make it a beautiful and fearsome creature.

The pre-breeding and post-breeding molting periods are a vital part of this bird’s life, and it is crucial that we take steps to protect them during this time. Whether you’re an experienced birdwatcher or a nature enthusiast, keep your eyes (and ears) open for the African Scops-Owl, and be sure to appreciate this little bird with big attitudes.

Systematics History

The African Scops-Owl, also known as Otus senegalensis, belongs to the family of Strigidae, which is the group of true owls. The genus Otus is characterized as the group of small and medium-sized owls.

The African Scops-Owl is estimated to be around two million years old based on the molecular clock dating. Otus senegalensis is a highly complex and diverse group with many geographical variations.

Geographic Variation

There are notable differences in the size, coloration, and vocalizations of the African Scops-Owl across its range, which has led to a high level of geographic variation. Studies have shown that there is also genetic variation across the species, with different populations exhibiting differing levels of genetic diversity.


Recent research has identified up to 12 subspecies of African Scops-Owls. These subspecies are mainly distinguished by their size, coloration, and vocalizations.

The subspecies of the African Scops-Owl are distributed across its range, from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east and South Africa in the south. The subspecies of the African Scops-Owl are as follows:


O. s.

aikenii: Found in Ethiopia and Eritrea. 2.

O. s.

bakeri: Found in Angola, Malawi, and Tanzania. 3.

O. s.

dybowskii: Found in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. 4.

O. s.

feae: Found in Somalia and northeast Kenya. 5.

O. s.

guineensis: Found in Senegal and Gambia. 6.

O. s.

kempi: Found in central Tanzania. 7.

O. s.

keniensis: Found in the highlands of Kenya. 8.

O. s.

letestui: Found in the Central African Republic and Cameroon. 9.

O. s.

mackenziei: Found in Zambia and Zimbabwe. 10.

O. s.

pamelae: Found in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. 11.

O. s.

senegalensis: Found in Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Niger. 12.

O. s.

ussheri: Found in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Related Species

The African Scops-Owl is a member of the Otus genus, which contains around 50 species worldwide. Some of the closest relatives of the African Scops-Owl are the Eurasian Scops-Owl, the Arabian Scops-Owl, and the Collared Scops-Owl.

These species all belong to the same family and share similar morphological and ecological characteristics.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the African Scops-Owl has been significantly altered over time due to a range of factors. The species was originally widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, occupying a variety of habitats, from humid forests to savannah and semi-arid areas.

However, the expansion of agriculture, logging, and other forms of development has led to large-scale habitat destruction, leading to a decline in the species’ population in many areas. Another factor that has contributed to changes in the distribution of the African Scops-Owl is the introduction of invasive species, such as rats and cats.

These predators have had a significant impact on native bird populations in many areas and have contributed to the decline of many species, including the African Scops-Owl. Climate change has also had an impact on the distribution of the African Scops-Owl.

As global temperatures continue to rise, many species are being forced to shift their ranges in order to find suitable habitats. This process can be slow and difficult for many species, leading to population declines and even local extinctions in some cases.

Conservation efforts are currently underway to protect the African Scops-Owl and other threatened species in sub-Saharan Africa. These efforts aim to address the factors that have led to declines in the population of the African Scops-Owl, including habitat destruction, the spread of invasive species, and climate change.

By working to protect these species, we can help to ensure that they remain a vital part of the rich biodiversity of this region for generations to come.


The African Scops-Owl is a highly adaptable species found in a wide range of habitats. These habitats include savannahs, forests, bushlands, grasslands, and even urban areas.

They are found in areas below 1500 meters, with a preference for areas with an abundance of trees, shrubs, and tall grasses. These habitats provide good hunting grounds for small mammals, insects, and birds, which are the main prey of the African Scops-Owl.

The African Scops-Owl is known to be particularly adaptable when it comes to nesting sites. They are able to use a variety of natural cavities and crevices, such as tree hollows, rock crevices, and abandoned bird nests.

They are also known to use man-made structures such as chimneys and nest boxes.

Movements and Migration

The African Scops-Owl is generally a sedentary species and does not undertake extensive migrations. However, they have been known to move short distances in response to changing weather patterns or to find new hunting grounds.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs between October and March, African Scops-Owls are known to become more vocal and active. Males will call to attract females and compete with other males for territories.

During this time, they may move short distances to establish new territories, but they generally remain in the same general area year-round. One study found that some African Scops-Owls in South Africa did exhibit migratory behavior, moving between different habitats in response to changing environmental conditions.

These movements were generally limited to a few hundred kilometers and were mainly driven by the availability of prey. Overall, the African Scops-Owl is a relatively sedentary species with a relatively small range, but they maintain a high level of adaptability to changing environmental conditions.

As such, they have been able to survive and thrive in a wide range of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.

Diet and Foraging


African Scops-Owls are primarily nocturnal and hunt mainly at night. They are efficient hunters and can catch prey in flight or on the ground.

They are highly skilled at locating prey with their sharp eyesight and keen hearing. Like most owls, African Scops-Owls have excellent low-light vision, which allows them to hunt effectively at dusk and dawn.

These birds use silent flight when hunting, flapping their wings slowly and softly to minimize noise. They also use their specialized feathers to muffle any sound made by the collision of air with their wingtips.


The African Scops-Owl has a varied diet that consists of small mammals, insects, and birds. Their preferred prey include rodents, shrews, and other small mammals.

They also hunt a variety of insects, such as beetles, moths, and grasshoppers. Other prey may depend on the specific habitat and range of the individual owl, but they are known to occasionally hunt reptiles as well.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

In order to survive, African Scops-Owls require a certain amount of food to maintain their energy requirements. They are able to regulate their core body temperature during rest, and their metabolic rate decreases by up to 90% during periods of rest.

Sounds and Vocal



The African Scops-Owl is a highly vocal species and is known for its distinctive vocalizations. They have a range of calls, including soft hoots, whistles, and trills.

Their calls are often heard at night, especially during breeding season. The calls of African Scops-Owls can be both territorial and communicative.

Males use their calls to defend their territory and attract mates during the breeding season. They can also use calls to communicate with other members of the same species or to warn off potential predators.

Overall, the African Scops-Owl is an adaptable species with a varied diet that allows it to thrive in many different types of habitats. Its distinctive vocalizations make it easily recognizable to birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.



The African Scops-Owl is a relatively agile bird that has adapted to fly through different types of habitats. While they prefer to perch and hunt from elevated locations, they are capable of swooping down to grab prey while in flight.

These owls are also able to use their wings and sharp talons to move quickly through dense vegetation, making them highly effective hunters in a variety of environments. Self Maintenance:

Like most birds, African Scops-Owls spend a considerable amount of time maintaining their feathers and body.

They use their beaks to preen their feathers, removing dirt and debris to maintain their insulating properties. Agonistic


The African Scops-Owl is highly territorial and protective of its nesting sites.

They will use aggressive behavior, such as physical attacks and vocalizations, to defend their territories against other species and intruders. Sexual


The African Scops-Owl engages in a variety of behaviors during the mating and breeding season.

Males will perform courtship displays, such as puffing up their feathers and vocalizing loudly, to attract females. Once a mate is chosen, the male and female will engage in a range of bonding behaviors, including preening each others feathers, and sharing food.

The male will also provide the female with food during the incubation and early brooding period.


The breeding season for the African Scops-Owl generally occurs between October and March. During this time, males will call to attract females and compete with other males for territories.

Once a female has been attracted, the male will present her with food and perform courtship displays to demonstrate his suitability as a mate. After mating, the female African Scops-Owl will lay a clutch of eggs in a nest made from natural cavities or other materials.

The eggs will be incubated by both parents for a period of around 30 days. Once the eggs hatch, the parents will both work to feed and care for the young.

Demography and Populations

The African Scops-Owl is a relatively common species, with stable populations throughout its range. However, due to habitat destruction, the populations of African Scops-Owls have declined in many areas.

Certain subspecies, such as those found in Somalia, are considered to be endangered due to ongoing habitat destruction and degradation. Conservation efforts are currently underway to protect the habitats and populations of African Scops-Owls and other threatened species in sub-Saharan Africa.

By working to reduce habitat destruction and protect endangered subspecies, we can help to ensure that these unique and fascinating birds continue to thrive in their native habitats. In conclusion, the African Scops-Owl is a remarkable bird species that has adapted to survive in a wide range of habitats.

With efficient hunting techniques, highly adaptable nesting sites, and distinctive vocalizations, these birds have become an important part of the biodiversity of sub-Saharan Africa. However, threats such as habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change pose significant risks to their populations.

By understanding the behavior, diet, and breeding patterns of these birds, and by taking measures to protect their habitats and populations, we can work to ensure that they continue to thrive and contribute to the richness of the natural world.

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