Serendib Scops Owl

It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun. But in ornithological terms, this was proven to be totally false in the early 2000s. That was when prominent Sri Lankan ornithologist Deepal Warakagoda discovered the Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in the Kitulgala rainforest in south-central Sri Lanka. He heard it there first and later saw it in the nearby Sinharajah rainforest. It was the first new bird discovered in Sri Lanka since 1868!

Serendib Scops Owl.jpg

Now nearly every birdwatcher living in, visiting, or planning to visit the island looks forward to seeing this attractive little creature. Endemic to southwestern Sri Lanka and known from only five forest reserves, this rainforest species is so secretive that it eluded all avifaunal surveys of the country, begun by the Dutch more than 200 years ago. The type description was published in 2004 and the species was given the scientific name Otus thilohoffmanni after Thilo W. Hoffmann, Sri Lanka’s leading worker for nature conservation. ‘Serendib’ was chosen as being an ancient Persian name for Sri Lanka and to signify the serendipity of the discovery. The bird is now so famous it even appears on the 2010 series of the 20 Sri Lankan rupee bank note!

Sri Lanka 20 rupee note with Serendib Scops Owl.jpg

The Serendib Scops Owl is a small scops owl about 17 cm (7 in) in length, with a short tail, and almost uniformly rufescent upperparts but for the presence of small black spots all over the body. The face is a little darker (with a weakly defined facial disk), and underparts paler than upperparts, with the belly becoming whitish. It has no distinct, “true” ear-tufts. The irises are orange-yellow in the male and yellow in the female and juvenile. The beak, legs and claws are whitish. The legs are feathered on the tibia and upper tarsi.

It begins calling at dusk, its frequency rising again some two hours before dawn. The vocalisation comprises a single note, “pu’u’u”, repeated at long intervals. Male and female call in the same pattern but in different keys.

Like most owls, the Serendib Scops Owl is strictly nocturnal and hunts insects (e.g. beetles and moths) and small vertebrates close to the ground. Very little is known about its breeding habits.

The Serendib Scops Owl is considered Endangered (IUCN 3.1) and current estimates put its total population at between only 200 and 700 individuals.

For a chance to see this recently discovered avian superstar, and many other incredible species, join us for a small group, expert-guided trip to sensational Sri Lanka! For more information get in touch with us or browse to Sri Lanka Birding Tour on our website.

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