Ciccaba nigrolineatablack-and-white owl

Geographic Range

Black-and-white owls are primarily resident birds of Central America (they do not migrate). However, they are also found from central Mexico to northwest Venezuela, to western Ecuador and to the very northwestern part of Peru. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999;, 2001)


Black-and-white owls are strictly terrestrial animals. They can be found near villages, forest edges, woodlands, and swamps. They prefer to live in humid to semi-humid evergreen or semi-deciduous forests at various elevations. The preferred elevation ranges between 1200 m in Mexico, to 2100 m in Panama, and 2400 m in Colombia. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999;, 2001)

  • Range elevation
    1200 to 2400 m
    3937.01 to 7874.02 ft

Physical Description

Owls are easily recognizable. Some common features of all owls are: a large round head, an upright stance, huge eyes, a short tail, and feathers so dense that it looks as if the owl has no neck. Black-and-white owls display all these qualities and are also known for the white and black stripes that cover their neck, stomach, and chest. The backside and tails of the owls are also covered in white stripes, though not nearly as many as are found on the abdomen. The face is predominantly black with white speckled brows over dark-brown eyes. The feet and bill are an orange-yellow color. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Terres, 1980)

The length of black-and-white owls can range from 33 to 45 cm. On average, females are 25% larger then males, weighing 535 grams, while males weigh approximately 435 grams. Other then the weight variation, the only noticeable difference between the males and females of this species is the longer wingspan of female owls. Overall, it is hard to distinguish between the male and female owls as their color patterns are almost exactly the same. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Black-and-white owls do not look similar to many other species. There is only one species that looks the same, black-banded owls (Ciccaba huhula). They look virtually the same as black-and-white owls, except they have white bars across the back of the head instead of being completely black. People often consider the two species to be conspecific. ("The Owl Pages: Information about owls", Date Unknown;, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    435 to 535 g
    15.33 to 18.85 oz
  • Range length
    33 to 45 cm
    12.99 to 17.72 in
  • Average length
    35 cm
    13.78 in


Black-and-white owls mate only once yearly and are monogamous. They indicate their readiness to mate by giving a hooting mating call. This call sounds similar to "who-who-WHOW-who" and is a very distinct call. Other attempts to attract a mate include the male flashing and flapping his wings and performing acrobatic flights to attract the attention of a female. (Oregon Zoo, 2002)

The male owls are extremely territorial, especially during breeding season. They are known to attack humans when they venture too close to a nest. The males also fend off other owls of the same species (within a 30 to 50 acre area) that would potentially compete for the same supply of food. ("The Owl Pages: Information about owls", Date Unknown;, 2001)

Black-and-white owls generally mate between late March and the end of May. The female lays 1 to 2 eggs. Sometimes, if the insect and rodent population size is too small, the female owl may not breed or may lay fewer eggs. Black-and-white owls often use old nests of squirrels, hawks or crows. It takes 15 to 35 days for the eggs to hatch. Within 24 to 52 days, the young learn how to fly and leave the nest. (Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

  • Breeding interval
    Black-and-white owls breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Black-and-white owls breed from late March to May.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 2
  • Range time to hatching
    15 to 35 days
  • Average time to hatching
    30 days
  • Range fledging age
    15 to 25 days
  • Range time to independence
    24 to 52 days

When the eggs hatch, the male is responsible for retrieving food for the chicks. The mother remains at the nest to protect her young from predators. The chicks are altricial and fledge in 24 to 52 days; they may receive parental care post-fledging. (, 2001; Terres, 1980)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
    • protecting


Black-and-white owls live much longer in captivity than in the wild. On average, they live 29 years in captivity versus 20 years in the wild. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    29 years


Black-and-white owls are generally solitary animals. However, they are occasionally spotted in small flocks outside of the breeding season. Owl flocks are called "parliaments". (Oregon Zoo, 2002)

Black-and-white owls are strictly nocturnal and sleep during the day. Extravagant camouflage is unnecessary since the owls hide during the day; their dark stripes and black face help disguise them during the dark nights. (Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

Communication between black-and-white owls is basic. They use vocal sounds such as hooting and a clicking sound created with the tongue. They also take flight and clap their wings. The flying and clapping can be used both in mating displays and to deter intruders. Black-and-white owls have a unique hooting call. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)

Food Habits

Black-and-white owls eat mainly insects and small mammals. The insects include dung beetles, domestic cockroaches, long horned grasshoppers, snout beetles, and long horned beetles. The small mammals include bats such as Jamaican fruit-eating bats and rodents such as rice rats (Oryzomys fulvescens). (del Hoyo, et al., 1999;, 2001)

Black-and-white owls have amazingly good hearing and vision, as well as powerful claws and beaks. This combined with the ability to fly quietly, gives them the extra advantage needed to catch prey in the night. The owl perches on a branch, and waits for an insect or rodent to pass by before it quickly swoops down and picks it off the forest floor. Sometimes the owls can catch insects and bats in flight. ("The Owl Pages: Information about owls", Date Unknown; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • insects


There are not very many predators of black-and-white owls, or any owl for that matter. They are very solitary creatures and generally keep to themselves (unless defending their territory). On occasion black-and-white owls have to endure a form of "mobbing". If a large group of small birds spots an owl sleeping during the day, they will team up and attack the owl to get it to leave. The owl will sometimes move to another tree, but will rarely ever retaliate against the mob of birds. ("The Owl Pages: Information about owls", Date Unknown; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Ecosystem Roles

Black-and-white owls, like any other species of owl, have an impact on the insect and rodent populations in their area. (Terres, 1980)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Aside from controlling the rodent and insect populations, owls have been traded as pets. Black-and-white owls are not one of the most commonly traded spaces due to their scarcity, however, snowy owls are one of the most sought after species for trade. (BBC Newsround, 2001; Terres, 1980)

The pellets that owls regurgitate after eating can be studied to determine the distribution of different rodent species. Owl pellets are composed of regurgitated bones and the fur of animals, neither of which can be digested by the owls. The owls have unknowingly helped scientists incrase their knowledge of rodents. (Terres, 1980)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of black-and-white owls on humans.

Conservation Status

Although black-and-white owls are not listed by CITES or the IUCN, they are usually found only in small populations. They are most widely distributed in Mexico and are often quite scarce in many areas, such as Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)

Owls may not negatively impact humans, but humans definitely have a negative impact on owls. People are constantly tearing down miles of forest that black-and-white owls use for nesting and hunting. The extensive use of pesticides also poses a threat to the health of black-and-white owls. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)

Other Comments

Black-and-white owls are also known as Strix nigrolineata. It was first placed in the Ciccaba genus because of difference in its external ear structures when compared with species from the genus Strix. However, recent DNA studies have shown that this classification is not necessarily true, therefore Ciccaba nigrolineata and Strix nigrolineata are considered to be synonymous. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)


Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Cynthia Biro (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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


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.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


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).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

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.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


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


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


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


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


Date Unknown. "The Owl Pages: Information about owls" (On-line). The Owl Pages. Accessed April 12, 2004 at

BBC Newsround, 2001. "Owl Experts Worried About Potter" (On-line). BBC Newsround. Accessed April 12, 2004 at

Oregon Zoo, 2002. "Oregon Zoo Animals" (On-line). Accessed April 12, 2004 at, 2001. "Black-and-white Owl" (On-line). Accessed April 12, 2004 at

Perrins, C., A. Middleton. 1985. Owls. Pp. 239-247 in Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1999. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 5. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.