It is sometimes fun to sit back and watch all the clever scientists fight over a bird’s name or its place in its genus or family. Few fights recently have been bigger than the one over the Rainforest Scops Owl Otus rutilus of Madagascar.
The only thing they can agree on, is that is a species of owl in the family Strigidae and in the genus Otus. But that is about it – the rest is not so clear. It used to be lumped together with 3 other scops owls (Mayotte, Pemba and Torotoroka Scops Owls) but those have all since been split by some authorities and have been given full species status. Other experts dispute this, and feel that some of these do not merit having full species status on genetic grounds.
What we do know is that the Rainforest Scops Owl is a small owl (19–24 cm and 85-120 grams) with short, rounded wings and short ear tufts. There are three morphs recorded (grey, brown and rufous) but the colouring is extremely variable. Features which stand out on all morphs are the pale facial disc, pale eyebrows, light spots on the scapulars and the barring on the wings and outer tail feathers. Sometimes the crown and the underparts are streaked blackish. The bill has a black tip and the eyes are always yellow.
The owl is endemic to Madagascar where it is found in the north and east of the island. It prefers, as its name suggests, humid tropical forest, thickets and humid bush country, from sea level to 2,000 metres above.
The typical song is a series of between five and fifteen short, even-pitched, clear “tu-tu-tu-tu-tu” notes, repeated after a few seconds.
The Rainforest Scops Owl feeds mostly on insects, such as beetles, moths and spiders. It hunts almost exclusively at night, and roosts during the day, hidden in dense foliage, sometimes close to the ground. Little is known of its breeding biology.
On our magical Madagascar Birding Tour, we visit several areas and reserves where you have a very good chance of seeing this beautiful, if genetically controversial, owl . Our next small group, expert-guided, 14 day trip to the world’s fourth-largest island is in September 2020.
For more information enquire directly at firstname.lastname@example.org about this bucket list birding trip to one of the most fascinating places on earth!