Otus scopscommon scops-owl(Also: Eurasian scops owl)

Geographic Range

The Eurasian scops owl (Otus scops) has a very broad geographic range. The non-breeding geographic range is in Africa and includes the west African coast from Senegal southward to Liberia, to the east African coast from Sudan southward to Kenya. The range continues northward to the southern borders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan, and southward to the borders of Cameroon and Kenya.

The breeding range encompasses three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. In Africa, it is found in parts of Morocco, Algiers, and Tunisia. In Europe, it ranges as far west as Portugal to as far east as Greece. The area extends northward to France and central Slovenia in southern Europe, and Estonia in eastern Europe. The range extends southward to Naples, Italy. In Asia, it ranges northward to St. Petersburg, Russia and southward to Pakistan. It is found as west as Turkey to as far east as Mongolia. The breeding range is nearly absent from Kazakhstan.

Resident populations are found in southern Europe as far west as Spain and as far east as Cyprus. This area includes the southernmost parts of Spain, Italy, Greece, and islands in the Mediterranean Sea. ("Otus scops", 2015; Denac, 2009)


Eurasian scops owls are found in semi-open, arid landscapes. Some populations are a trans-Saharan migrant found in sub-Saharan savannah during the winter months. Breeding grounds typically are open habitats, rich in insects, that include large old trees with cavities. These owls also can breed in small woodlots. They can be found in rocky, mountainous regions (such as the Alps), cultivated areas with groups of trees, and parks or gardens with mature trees.

Scops owls can be found in a wide range of elevations, from low-lying areas to mountains, ranging from 65 to 3764 meters above sea level. (Denac, 2009; Marchesi and Sergio, 2005; Martinez, et al., 2007; Mikkola, 2012; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    65 to 3764 m
    213.25 to 12349.08 ft

Physical Description

The Eurasian scops owl has a mass of 60-135 grams with the females typically weighing 15-25 grams more than the males. The wingspan ranges from 50-64 centimeters and the length ranges from 16-21 centimeters for both male and female. It has relatively long wings and a short tail. Mostly living in trees, the scops owl is able to camouflage well with its greyish-brown feathers. The plumage looks like the bark of a tree, with blackish streaks.

The owl has small ear tufts, visible when on alert. The eyes are a bright yellow while the bill is grey. The scops owl is feathered to the base of the grey toes that have dark-tipped grey-brown claws.

The downy chick is whitish. As it grows, the juvenile scops owl tends to resemble the adult, but the feathers are fluffier and have distinct pattern markings on the crown, upper back and breast. (Mikkola, 2012; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    60 to 135 g
    2.11 to 4.76 oz
  • Range length
    16 to 21 cm
    6.30 to 8.27 in
  • Range wingspan
    50 to 64 cm
    19.69 to 25.20 in


On its return from its winter home, the migratory male will begin to sing on calm nights. The non-migratory males will start singing in February. Once a female responds, the pair will begin a duet and copulation frequently occurs thereafter. After copulation, the male will fly off in search of a potential nesting site. Once a cavity has been found, the male will sing from the opening, calling to the female. The female will come and inspect the potential nest before accepting the cavity. The scops owls are typically monogamous, but have also been seen to display polygyny, where the male will have more than one female partner. The pair will work together to care for the young and defend the nest from intruders. (Blanco, et al., 2002; Wink, et al., 2008)

European scops owls breed once a year between April through August. Nests can be found in natural cavities found in trees, rocks or walls, holes in trunks or large branches from woodpeckers, or even under roofs. Nest-boxes also have been accepted. The females can lay up to six eggs per brood, but usually produces an average of three to four eggs. Females begin laying eggs in late April, directly at the base of the tree cavity, at two day intervals. Incubation will begin after the second egg. The males will bring food to the females while she is incubating. Both sexes protect the nest from intruders using vocal defense. The eggs will begin to hatch asynchronously over two to four days, after 20 to 31 days of incubation. Brood reduction usually occurs as a result of competition between siblings. The male and female will feed and care for the brood for four to five weeks. Three to four weeks after hatching, the fledglings will be able to leave the nest and climb into trees or bushes using its bills and claws, and fluttering with their wings, and will become independent around four to five weeks old. Sexual maturity for both sexes is reached at ten months of age.

In a study completed by Blanco et al. (2002), 94% of the first-hatched chicks from first-laid eggs were male. Evidence that females may adjust the sex ratio of their offspring has increased since molecular techniques for sexing nestlings have begun. A relationship has been found between ovulation order and egg sex. The scops owl is slightly size-dimorphic, as the females are born larger than the males, and therefore take more energy to raise. The sex manipulation most likely occurs during egg production, as manipulation after hatching would be risky and expensive in resources. This may be achieved by placing the initial egg in the desired direction, or due to the changes in hormones in the female before and after the first-laid egg. (Blanco, et al., 2002; Galeotti and Sacchi, 2001; Galeotti, et al., 1997; Martinez, et al., 2007; Mori, et al., 2014; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    European scops owls breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    20 to 31 days
  • Range fledging age
    3 to 4 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    4 to 5 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 months

Parental investment begins after the pair has approved a nesting site. The pair will begin defending their territory with vocal calls, and can be seen near the nesting site every night. After the female lays the eggs, she alone will incubate, while the male will bring food to the nest. After hatching, the female will brood and feed the young for 18 days before leaving the nest to help the male bring in food. The young are cared for, fed, and protected by both parents until about four to five weeks old, when they are considered independent. (Blanco, et al., 2002; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


In a study by Boano and Silvano (2015), the maximum age for the scops owl in the wild was 6 years and 8 months. In the study, a long-term mark-and-recapture approach estimated the adult survivability. In captivity, individuals can live upwards of 12 years. (Boano and Silvano, 2015; Fransson, et al., 2010; Mikkola, 2012)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    6.7 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    >12 (high) years


European scops owls are typically solitary birds, but can form loose colonies. The owls will monogamously pair during the breeding season and polygyny can occur in rare instances. Once paired, both sexes will defend the territory through duetted vocal displays against the intruder. The egg-laying and incubation period will begin in late May to early July, and parental care will continue through July and August. They create nests in cavities of old trees and buildings.

The scops owls are nocturnal, most active from after sunset to midnight. Both sexes are vocal and have similar calls, while pitch for the females is higher than the males. When there are predators nearby, the owls will call out to alarm and alert others. During the day, they can camouflage themselves by concealing their bodies against the bark of the tree. If approached by a predator, the owls can enhance their camouflage, by stretching their body and swaying back and forth to imitate a branch.

These owls that live in the same vicinity as the little owl (Athene noctua) use this species’ alarm call as a warning sign and to provide greater protection. They will roost near the trunk of the tree or in tree cavities where their camouflage is most effective. The owl will perch in trees, near the roosting site, before swooping down to catch prey, typically insects.

The majority of the individuals will migrate to sub-Saharan Africa during the winter due to decreasing temperatures, while some populations have been found to remain in central and southern Italy based on the moderate temperatures year-round. The owls will return to their breeding habitat in late March. ("Common scops-owl (Otus scops)", 2015; Galeotti and Sacchi, 2001; Galeotti, et al., 1997; Martinez, et al., 2007; Wink, et al., 2008)

Home Range

Martinez et al. (2007) described the home range of the European scops owl as a 30-hectare area surrounding the nest. The size of the core area is only 35 percent of the home range, a 10.5-hectare circular plot. (Martinez, et al., 2007)

Communication and Perception

The hoot of the male European scops owl is a single syllable that lasts around 0.2 to 0.4 seconds and is repeated every two to three seconds for tens of minutes. The average frequency ranges from 1150 to 1450 Hertz. A female hoot is similar to that of the male, but is slightly higher pitched. When the scops owl is alarmed, both sexes will emit a loud and piercing call, to alert others of the danger.

The owl relies on excellent hearing in order to hunt. An eastern screech owl Otus asio in the same genus is able to detect and catch prey by hearing alone, so it is assumed that this is the same for the scops owl. The visual capabilities of the owl is poor. In typical low light conditions, these owls can only detect large objects. (Dragonetti, 2012; Hardouin, et al., 2009; Martin, 2008; Mikkola, 2012; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

The European scops owl is nocturnal and mostly active between sunset and midnight. It is insectivorous, preying mostly on insects such as moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, and beetles. Earthworms and spiders are also eaten, as well as small vertebrates such as geckos, frogs, small birds, like the great tit (Parus major), or mice. Small birds and mammals make up only one percent of the scops owl diet.

The scops owl will swoop down and capture insects using the beak. For slightly larger prey, the owl will swoop down from a perch and seize the vertebrate with the talons, and hold it in the toes of a raised foot while being consumed. (Marchesi and Sergio, 2005; Mikkola, 2012; Wink, et al., 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms


The tawny owl (Strix aluco) preys upon the European scops owl. This predator may limit the distribution that the scops owl is found, as the tawny owl is mainly a woodland species, pushing the scops owl to more grassland areas. Sergio et al. (2009) completed a study of the scops owl vocalizations, and found that tawny owls will try to ambush unsuspecting individuals. Humans (Homo sapiens) are also thought to be a threat to the owl, as hunting continues along the migration routes in Italy and Malta. ("Otus scops", 2015; Sergio, et al., 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

European scops owls are secondary consumers because they prey on insects and small vertebrates.

Cryptosporidiosis, an ocular and respiratory disease associated with a parasitic protist (Cryptosporidium baileyi), has been found in scops owl fledglings born in the wild. Infection can occur due to inhalation of the parasite. The fledglings develop necrotic plaques in their oral cavities, as a result of a roundworm (Gongylonema). The infection can affect the jawbone and lead to starvation and death if not discovered and properly treated.

Parasitic roundworms (Centrorhynchus aluconis, Dispharynx nasuta, Synhimantus affinis, Skrjabinura spiralis, Subulura, and Choanotaenia littoriae) have been found in scops owls in southern Italy. The predominantly found species of roundworm was Synhimantus affinis. These parasites are likely acquired through ingestion of infected prey.

A recently discovered roundworm, (Subulura mackoi), has been found in the owl's colon and caecum.

Serological tests have also recently discovered the parasitic protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii, in the owl. (Barus, et al., 2013; Cabezón, et al., 2011; Esperon, et al., 2013; Molina-Lopez, et al., 2010; Santoro, et al., 2012)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Roundworm (Gongylonema)
  • Parasitic protozoan (Toxoplasma gondii)
  • Parasitic protozoan (Cryptosporidium baileyi)
  • Roundworm (Subulura mackoi)
  • Roundworm (Centrorhynchus aluconis)
  • Roundworm (Dispharynx nasuta)
  • Roundworm (Synhimantus affinis)
  • Roundworm (Skrjabinura spiralis)
  • Roundworm (Choanotaenia littoriae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

European scops owls are hunted along migration routes in Malta and Italy, though the reasons for hunting are unknown. ("Otus scops", 2015)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no reported negative economic importance for the European scops owl.

Conservation Status

The European population of scops owls is estimated at 463,000 to 785,000 individuals, and counts across the entire range have been extrapolated to 812,000-1,380,000. The IUCN Red List has listed this species as "Least Concern" due to the large range, while local population trends are not known. A decline has been seen in this species in developing areas, most likely a result of loss or fragmentation of habitat and reduction of insects through the use of pesticides. Increase in tawny owl (Strix aluco) populations may lead to decrease in this species. Hunting, along migration routes in Malta and Italy, may also impact the species. The loss of habitat and suitable tree cavities has been remedied in various countries through the implementation of artificial nest-boxes. Other proposed conservation actions include limiting the amount of highly toxic pesticides that could build up in insectivores, and preserving mature trees where scops owls have previously been found.

Scops owls have an Appendix II status under CITES. Appendix II status species are not threatened with extinction presently, but may become so if trade is not regulated. Protections include requiring export permits to bring the species out of the country, in a manner that will minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment. No evidence in trade of scops owls has been found.

Scops owls hold no special status in the United States because they do not live there. ("Otus scops", 2015)


Danielle Lattanze (author), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Zeb Pike (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


2015. "Common scops-owl (Otus scops)" (On-line). Wildscreen Arkive. Accessed February 28, 2016 at http://www.arkive.org/common-scops-owl/otus-scops/.

BirdLife International. 2015. "Otus scops" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22688643A80484352. Accessed January 28, 2016 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22688643/0.

Barus, V., S. Masova, B. Koubkova, J. Sitko. 2013. Subulura mackoi n. sp. (Nematoda: Subuluridae) and the zoogeography of subulurids parasitizing birds. Helminthologia, 50/1: 46-56.

Blanco, G., J. Davila, J. Lopez Septiem, R. Rodriguez, F. Martinez. 2002. Sex-biased initial eggs favours sons in the slightly size-dimporhic scops owl (Otus scops). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 76/1: 1-7.

Boano, G., F. Silvano. 2015. Adult survival probability in a recovered population of scops owls Otus scops. Ardea, 103/2: 145-153.

Cabezón, O., I. García-Bocanegra, R. Molina-López, I. Marco, J. Blanco, U. Höfle, A. Margalida, E. Bach-Raich, L. Darwich, I. Echeverria, E. Obón, M. Hernández, S. Lavín, J. Dubey, S. Almería. 2011. Seropositivity and risk factors associated with Toxoplasma gondii infection in wild birds from Spain.. PLoS ONE, 6/12: 1-7.

Denac, K. 2009. Habitat selection of Eurasian scops owl Otus scops on the northern border of its range, in Europe. Ardea, 97/4: 535-540.

Dragonetti, M. 2012. Individuality in scops owl Otus scops vocalizations. Bioacoustics, 16/2: 147-172.

Esperon, F., M. Paz Martin, F. Lopes, P. Orejas, L. Carrero, M. Jesus Munoz, R. Alonso. 2013. Gongylonema sp. infection in the scops owl (Otus scops). Parasitology International, 62/6: 502-504.

Fransson, T., T. Kolehmainen, C. Kroon, L. Jansson, T. Wenninger. 2010. "EURING list of longevity records for European birds" (On-line). Accessed March 17, 2016 at http://www.euring.org/data-and-codes/longevity-list?page=3.

Galeotti, P., R. Sacchi. 2001. Turnover of territorial scops owls Otus scops as estimated by spectrographic analyses of male hoots. Journal of Avian Biology, 32/3: 256-262.

Galeotti, P., R. Sacchi, E. Perani. 1997. Cooperative defense and intrasexual aggression in scops owls (Otus scops): responses to playback of male and female calls. Journal of Raptor Research, 31/4: 353-357.

Hardouin, L., V. Bretagnolle, P. Tabel, C. Bavoux, G. Burneleau, D. Reby. 2009. Acoustic cues to reproductive success in male owl hoots. Animal Behaviour, 78/4: 907-913.

Marchesi, L., F. Sergio. 2005. Distribution, density, diet, and productivity of the scops owl Otus scops in the Italian Alps. Ibis, 147/1: 176-187.

Martin, G. 2008. Sensory capacities and the nocturnal habit of owls (Strigiformes). International Journal of Avian Science, 128/2: 266-277.

Martinez, J., I. Zuberogoitia, J. Martinez, J. Zabala, J. Calvo. 2007. Patterns of territory settlement by Eurasian scops-owls (Otus scops) in altered semi-arid landscapes. Journal of Arid Environments, 69/3: 400-409.

Mikkola, H. 2012. Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books.

Molina-Lopez, R., A. Ramis, S. Martin-Vazquez, H. Gomez-Couso, E. Ares-Maza, S. Caccio, M. Leiva, L. Darwich. 2010. Cryptosporidium baileyi infection associated with an outbreak of ocular and respiratory disease in otus owls (Otus scops) in a rehabilitation centre. Avian Pathology, 39/3: 171-176.

Mori, E., M. Menchetti, F. Ferretti. 2014. Seasonal and environmental influences on calling behavior of Eurasian scops owls. Bird Study, 61/2: 277-281.

Santoro, M., S. Mattiucci, G. Nascetti, J. Kinsella, F. Di Prisco, S. Troisi, N. D’Alessio, V. Veneziano, F. Aznar. 2012. Helminth communities of owls (Strigiformes) indicate strong biological and ecological differences from birds of prey (Accipitriformes and Falconiformes) in Southern Italy. PLoS ONE, 7/12: 1-13.

Sergio, F., L. Marchesi, P. Pedrini. 2009. Conservation of scops owl Otus scops in the Alps: relationships with grassland management, predation risk and wider biodiversity. Ibis, 151/1: 40-50.

Seruca, C., R. Molina-Lopez, T. Pena, M. Leiva. 2012. Ocular consequences of blunt trauma in two species of nocturnal raptors (Athene noctua and Otus scops). Veterinary Ophthalmology, 15/4: 236-244.

Wink, M., K. Konig, F. Weick. 2008. Owls of the World. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.