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Rainforest Scops Owl

Otus rutilus

The Madagascar scops owl, known scientifically as Otus rutilus, is a diminutive owl species adorned with short, rounded wings and modest, erectable ear-tufts crowning its head. Exhibiting a trio of color morphs—grey, brown, and rufous—this owl is distinguished by pale eyebrows, light speckles on the scapulars, and barred patterns on the wings and tail feathers. Occasionally, one may observe streaking across the crown and underparts. The bill, tipped in black, ranges in hue from dull green to yellowish-grey, while the eyes gleam a striking yellow. These creatures span 22–24 cm in length and boast a wingspan of 52–54 cm.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the Madagascar scops owl, look for its distinctive ear-tufts and the barred patterns on its wings and tail. The pale eyebrows are also a key feature, along with the color morphs that may aid in distinguishing it from other species. The yellow eyes and black-tipped bill are additional characteristics to note.


The Madagascar scops owl thrives in the lush, humid tropical forests and bushlands of Madagascar. The nominate subspecies, O. r. rutilus, is particularly fond of the eastern rainforests, while its western counterpart, O. r. madagascariensis, shows a preference for drier environments.


This species is endemic to Madagascar, with its presence spanning the entire island. The recent taxonomic lumping with the Torotoroka scops owl has expanded its recognized range across this diverse landscape.


A nocturnal predator, the Madagascar scops owl primarily feeds on invertebrates such as grasshoppers, beetles, moths, and spiders, and occasionally small vertebrates. It hunts from a perch or in flight, capturing moths mid-air. By day, it roosts in dense foliage, blending seamlessly with its surroundings.

Song & calls

The owl's vocal repertoire consists of a sequence of short, resonant, and clear hoots, typically numbering between five and nine, which can be phonetically transcribed as "pu-pu-pu-pu-pu". These calls are emitted at intervals spanning several seconds.


Details on the breeding habits of the Madagascar scops owl remain elusive. However, it is known to nest within tree hollows, laying a clutch of 3 to 4 pristine white eggs, likely during the months of November and December.

Similar Species

The Madagascar scops owl was once considered conspecific with the Torotoroka scops owl, and it shares similarities with the Mayotte and Pemba scops owls. However, genetic studies have clarified some of these relationships, distinguishing them as separate entities.

Diet and Feeding

The Madagascar scops owl's diet is composed of a variety of invertebrates and the occasional small vertebrate. It employs both perch-hunting and aerial pursuit to capture its prey, demonstrating a versatile approach to feeding.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List categorizes the Madagascar scops owl as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without immediate threats to its survival. It is also listed under Appendix II of CITES, reflecting the need for monitoring international trade to ensure its conservation.

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Rainforest Scops Owls on Birda

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Jean-Sébastien Guénette
26 Sep 2019 - 4:20pm

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