Did you know there is a hobby called “owling”? It is the fun activity of going out after dark looking for owls and nightjars! And one of the top targets for “owlers” on the African continent is the African Scops Owl (Otus senegalensis).
This small (16 to 19 cm) and beautiful nocturnal owl is extremely well camouflaged (grey-brown and rufous-brown morphs occur) and is difficult to observe unless calling at night or seen at a known day-time roosting spot.
It is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and prefers arid savannah woodland extending along wooded watercourses into desert and grassland areas. In some areas it will also inhabit park-like clearings and large gardens with tall trees.
It used to be considered conspecific with the Eurasian Scops Owl but is now officially split by most authorities. There are three recognised subspecies, based mostly on distribution, and to a lesser extent on different plumage.
The African Scops Owl is a strictly nocturnal hunter and mostly hunts from a low perch. It mainly preys on invertebrates, including millipedes, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, moths, caterpillars, mantids, spiders, cockroaches and scorpions. Sometimes it will also eat geckos, lizards, frogs and more rarely small mammals and birds.
Monogamous pairs of African Scops Owl are territorial and the call is described as a loud, single, high, purring “krrruup” repeated every 5 to 10 seconds, given by both sexes. They nest in a small cavity in a tree, up to 10 metres above the ground. The clutch size is usually 3 eggs, incubation takes about 22 days, and the chicks leave the cavity after about 26 days. The fledglings are fed by the parents until they are 2 months old.
Luckily the African Scops Owl is considered as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2016) with a stable population across its range. It occurs in considerable numbers in protected areas in most countries throughout its extensive distribution.
For a chance to go “owling” with us and see some cool nocturnal species, along with some of the continent’s most sought after species, join us on our Ghana Birding Trip in January 2020.