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Species Guide

Middle American Screech Owl

Megascops guatemalae

The Middle American screech owl, known scientifically as Megascops guatemalae, is a diminutive and enigmatic bird of prey, cloaked in feathers that range from a grayish-brown to a rich rufous hue. This species is distinguished by its feathered feet, a trait not shared with its congeners. It measures a modest 20 to 23 centimeters in length and tips the scales at 95 to 150 grams.

Identification Tips

To identify this owl, look for its light brown facial disc framed by a dark border, and yellow eyes accentuated by thin white brows. Its crown and upperparts are adorned with blackish spots and bars, while the underparts are a paler canvas marked by bold longitudinal stripes and some horizontal streaks. The rufous morph, on the other hand, is washed in a reddish tone, with patterns that are somewhat subdued.


The Middle American screech owl is at home in a variety of landscapes, from humid evergreen and semi-deciduous forests to the more arid thorn forests. It can also be found in secondary forests and plantations, adapting to a range of environmental conditions from sea level up to 1,500 meters in elevation.


This owl's range extends from northern Mexico down to western Panama, with six subspecies recognized by the International Ornithological Committee, each with its own geographic stronghold.


A nocturnal hunter, the Middle American screech owl swoops down on its prey from a perch or captures it mid-flight. Its diet is predominantly large insects, supplemented occasionally by small vertebrates.

Song & calls

The owl's primary territorial song is a captivating, rapid trill that crescendos in pitch and volume before coming to an abrupt halt. Additionally, it produces a secondary song composed of a series of notes that follow a bouncing-ball rhythm.


Details on the breeding habits of this species are somewhat elusive. However, it is known to nest primarily in March and April, with the possibility of extending into June. The clutch, typically two or three eggs, is deposited in a natural tree cavity or an abandoned woodpecker hole.

Conservation status

The IUCN has classified both the Middle American and the vermiculated screech owls as species of Least Concern. While their population sizes are not precisely known and are believed to be decreasing, no immediate threats have been pinpointed. However, habitat loss could pose a potential threat in the future.

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Middle American Screech Owls on Birda


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