Scops owl

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Scops owls
Otus scops ab cropped.png
Eurasian scops owls, Otus scops
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Otus
Pennant, 1769
Type species
Otus bakkamoena
Pennant, 1769
Synonyms

Scops Savigny, 1809
(non Moehring, 1758, Brünnich, 1772: preoccupied)

Scopus Oken 1817
(non Brisson, 1760: preoccupied)

Scops owls are owls in the family Strigidae. Scops owls are the genus Otus. They live in the Old World. Otus has more species in it than any other genus of owls. There are 59 species of scops owls. Scops owls are brown, grayish, or reddish in color, but they can have lighter colors on the belly or face. This helps to make them hard to see when they sit in trees. Sometimes, owls in the same spcies look different from each other. Scops owls are small and move easily. Female scops owls are usually larger than males in the same species.

For a long time, scientists thought screech owls were scops owls too. Now, scientists think that they are two different groups of owls.

Taxonomy[change | change source]

The African scops owl (Otus senegalensis) has feathers that make it hard to see.

The genus Otus was first used in 1769. The Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant made it for the Indian scops owl (O. bakkamoena).[1] The name comes from the Latin word otus and the Greek word ὦτος ōtos meaning horned or eared owl (cf. οὖς, GEN ὠτός, "ear").[2][3][4][5] Marie Jules César Savigny made the English name "Scops" in 1809.[6] and it comes from the Greek σκώψ skōps meaning small owl.[7]

Scientists have changed their minds about which owls should be in Otus and which owls are only their relatives. For most of the 20th century, scientists said screech owls were also scops owls. But they changed their minds. Now, screech owls are in their own genus, Megascops. Screech owls live in the Americas, and they act differently, live in different places, have different body shapes, and have different DNA from scops owls.

History[change | change source]

Scientists have changed their minds about Otus many times, especially about whether screech owls should be in it or not. DNA evidence helped them decide.

By the mid-19th century, scientists knew that Otus had more than one genus in it. First, in 1848, scientists made a second genus for screech owls, Megascops. In 1850s, they made other genera for other owls that had been in Otus. They made Macabra, Ptilopsis, Gymnasio, Gymnoglaux, and Pyrroglaux for different groups of owls.[source?]

In the early 20th century, scientists liked the idea of putting species in a few big groups instead of more small groups. The 3rd edition of the AOU checklist in 1910 put the screech owls back in Otus. Although not all scientists agreed about this, it was the most common way to think about owl groups for most of the 20th century. In 1988, some scientists tried to put back all the genera from 140 years earlier by treating them as subgenuses inside Otus.[8] But this did not make sense. It did not match the evolutionary and phylogenetic information.

In the late 20th century, scientists started to use DNA to tell how animals were related to each other. This changed things for Otus. In 1999, the first mtDNA cytochrome b study of these owls showed that the separate groups were really different genera and not only subgenera. The scientists said that most of the genera proposed around 1850 were right or close to right.[9] Not all scientists agreed at first, but they did more and more DNA studies. In time, almost all scientists came to trust DNA. In 2003, the AOU formally decided to take screech owls out of Otus and put them in the genus Megascops.[10]

Species[change | change source]

The genus Otus has 59 species (including 3 extinct species):[11]

Two extinct species are sometimes placed in the genus:

Possible species[change | change source]

On May 14, 1994, scientists heard what sounded like an Otus owl calling at about 1,000 meters above sea level south of the summit of Camiguin in the Philippines. No scientists had found any scops owls on that island before. Sometimes people discover new species of Otus. There may be another Otus owl living on the island.[12][13]

Formerly placed here[change | change source]

The fossil record for scops owls does not tell us everything. Some older writings say many species of Otus owls are now extinct, but maybe those owls really belong in different genera:[14]

  • "Otus" henrici was a barn owl of the genus Selenornis
  • "Otus" providentiae was a burrowing owl, probably a paleosubspecies
  • "Otus" wintershofensis may be close to extant genus Ninox and some material assigned to it belongs into Intutula
  • "Scops" commersoni is a junior synonym of the recently extinct Mauritius owl. Scientists looked at pictures and descriptions that talk about ear tufts; and the subfossil material of this species had been erroneously assigned to tuftless owls.

Evolution[change | change source]

People found scops owl fossils that look like the Eurasian scops-owl on the Spanish island Majorca.[14] The scops and screech owls probably both evolved during the Miocene (like many owls). They probably became separate groups 5 million years ago. Their common ancestor was probably a small owl with ear tufts and feathers on at least the upper tarsus (leg).

Ecology and behaviour[change | change source]

A fledgling Eurasian scops owl, Otus scops

Scops owls voices sound like whistling or a row of high-pitched hoots, fewer than four hoots per second. The owls call like this for social interaction[15] or to scare away other animals. But different species of scops owls sound different from each other. Human beings usually know scops owls are nearby because they hear them calling. Human beings can tell scops owl species apart by their voices. Some, like the Serendib scops owl (Otus thilohoffmanni), were discovered because birdcall experts could tell their voices were new to them.[16]

Scops owls hunt from perches in landscapes with only a few trees. They live more in areas with old trees with hollows in them. The animals they like to eat live in hollows. For example, insects, reptiles, and small mammals such as bats and mice and other small birds. The owls will also eat earthworms, amphibians, and aquatic animals without bones.[17] Scops owls can hear very well, which helps them find animals to eat. They also have strong claws and a curved bill, both of which help them tear prey into small pieces that they can eat.

Most scops owls live alone. Most scops owls lay and sit on their eggs in a nest in a hole in a tree. They do not dig the holes themselves. Instead, they go into holes that other animals made. The female sits on the eggs and the male brings her food. These birds are monogamous, and both parents take care of the chicks.

References[change | change source]

  1. Pennant, Thomas (1769). "Otus bakkamoena". Indian Zoology. London. p. 3.
  2. Jobling, J.A. (2010). "Otus". The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 286. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. Template:L&S
  4. ὦτος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at Perseus Project.
  5. οὖς in Liddell and Scott.
  6. Savigny, M.J.C. (1809). "Scops Ephialtes. Le petit duc". Description de l'Égypte, ou recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte. Vol. I. Paris: L'Imprimerie Impériale. p. 107.
  7. σκώψ in Liddell and Scott.
  8. Marshall, J. T.; King, B. (1988). "Genus Otus". In Amadon, D.; Bull, J. (eds.). Hawks and owls of the world: A distributional and taxonomic list. Proceedings of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. Vol. 3. pp. 296–357.
  9. Heidrich, P.; König, C. & Wink, M. (1995). "Molecular phylogeny of the South American Otus atricapillus complex (Aves Strigidae) inferred from nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C. 50 (3–4): 294–302. doi:10.1515/znc-1995-3-420. PMID 7766262. S2CID 28746107.
  10. Banks, R. C.; Cicero, C.; Dunn, J. L.; Kratter, A. W.; Rasmussen, P. C.; Remsen, J.V. Jr.; Rising, J. D. & Stotz, D. F. (2003). "Forty-fourth supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union check-list of North American birds" (PDF). Auk. 120 (3): 923–931. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0923:fsttao]2.0.co;2.
  11. Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2021). "Owls". IOC World Bird List Version 11.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  12. Balete, D. S.; Tabaranza, B. R. Jr. & Heaney, L. R. (2006). "An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Camiguin Island, Philippines". Fieldiana Zoology. New Series. 106: 58. doi:10.3158/0015-0754(2006)106[58:AACOTB]2.0.CO;2.
  13. Heaney, L. R. & Tabaranza, B. R. Jr. (2006). "Mammal and Land Bird Studies on Camiguin Island, Philippines: Background and Conservation Priorities". Fieldiana Zoology. New Series. 106: 1–13. doi:10.3158/0015-0754(2006)106[1:MALBSO]2.0.CO;2.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Mlíkovský, J. (2002). Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Prague: Ninox Press.[permanent dead link]
  15. "Scops owl". BirdFact. Retrieved November 3, 2022.
  16. Deepal H. Warakagoda; Pamela C. Rasmusse (2004). "A new species of scops-owl from Sri Lanka" (PDF). Bull. B.0.C. (Full text). 124 (2). Retrieved November 3, 2022.
  17. Marchesi, L. & Sergio, F. (2005). "Distribution, density, diet and productivity of the Scops Owl Otus scops in the Italian Alps". Ibis. 147 (1): 176–187. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.2004.00388.x.

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