Scops Owl

Eurasian scops owl– Otus scops


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Genre: Otus
  • Species: Otus scops

Identification characters

Eurasian scops owl (Otus scops) is a species of small night-owl. For Romania’s fauna, the thrasher is the only species of migrating night-owl. It is smaller than the cuckoo, with a body length of 19 – 21 cm and a wing span of 47 – 54 cm.

It weighs 60 – 135 grams. The sexes are similar. The head and back are brown with white spots. On the belly, the colour is lighter, with dark streaks and vermicules arranged vertically, mimicking the pattern of tree bark. On the head there are two tufts, more conspicuous in the alert state, when the tuft adopts the elongated camouflage posture, but less visible in the resting bird. The eyes are yellow.

The genus name, otus, is the Latinised form of the Greek word otos, which means ⹂eared⹂or even a small owl with tufts. The specific epithet, skops is the name of a small night bird, but the word skopos in ancient Greek also has the meaning of one who watches watching carefully, like a watchman, the owls having eyes very well adapted for seeing in dim light, to spot prey easily, as indeed do all night birds of prey.

At night, being more difficult to see, the thrasher can be spotted by the rhythmic whistling that can be heard in the distance.


The Eurasian scops owl nests in all European countries. Europe accounts for 57% of the species’ range. The Thistle is absent from southern Eurasia. In the south, it nests in northern Africa. In Europe, the breeding population ranges from 227 000 to 381 000 breeding pairs.

In Romania, the species is mainly found in hilly areas, but also in lowland areas. It usually avoids mountainous areas, where it can be found less frequently. The population in Romania is between 41 306 and 50 265 breeding pairs.

Living environment and biology of the species

The scops owl nests in lowland and hilly, warm and arid areas at lower altitudes. Common in temperate and Mediterranean areas, but also in steppe and oceanic areas. Occasionally it also occurs in alpine areas between 1400 and 1500 m altitude.
It is a nocturnal, arboreal species that hunts in open areas over large areas covered with trees. These areas also provide suitable resting and nesting sites, in the vicinity of habitats rich in the main food source of various insects. Choose semi-open areas with shrubs and old trees, such as man-made habitats near settlements, orchards, vineyards, parks, gardens, tree lines along roads or paths. Avoid habitats without trees. In winter in Africa, they inhabit a wide range of habitats, such as dense bushes where thistles rest during the day.

In Romania, the thrasher is the only species of migrating night-jar. In August it starts to leave for wintering quarters. Maximum longevity is seven years. It reaches sexual maturity at the age of one year.
Feeds mainly on insects and other invertebrates, but sometimes also on small birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. It usually stalks in high places, from where it launches itself to catch its prey consisting of clawed moths, but it can catch its own cossacks and various beetles by walking on the ground. Small prey are swallowed whole. Larger prey is first shredded and the birds are plucked before being eaten.

The nest is placed quite high up in the branches of old trees, in cavities made by woodpeckers, in holes in walls, in artificial nests, and sometimes the nests of other birds, such as magpies. The female lays 4-6 matt white eggs in May. Incubation is predominantly by the female for 24-25 days. While the female broods, the male feeds her. It is also the male who brings the food to the nest to pass it on to his mate, who will share it with the young. The chicks are white-grey nests. Juveniles become able to fly from the nest 21-25 days after hatching, but for another five weeks the parents continue to care for them. The chick lays a single clutch in a breeding season.

Threats and conservation measures

The main threat to the species is related to the degradation and loss of suitable habitat, breeding areas and agglomeration through the felling of old trees in open, agricultural or mosaic habitats and land use change. Other threats include contamination by agricultural products treated with pesticides in agriculture, leading to a decrease in the food source of insects and rodents. Other threats are caused by poaching and various anthropogenic activities.

As conservation measures it is recommended to maintain, create and promote land with vegetation suitable to the requirements of the species, uncultivated, maintain and prohibit the burning of stubble, maintain appropriate stubble management in areas where it has been traditionally carried out, maintain and enhance corridors between areas of spontaneous grassland including trees, tree lines and scattered groups of non-productive trees. In agricultural areas it is recommended to reduce the use of insecticides and herbicides, or, if necessary, to apply only low toxic and persistent chemicals and only outside the species’ breeding season. Particular attention should be paid to measures to ensure peace in the breeding areas of the species, monitoring and avoiding illegal trapping and nest destruction. A measure that guarantees the safety of the birds takes into account the management of telecommunication or energy transmission cables, with the location of new cables adapted to national standards. Areas where road mortality is high need to be identified so that measures can be taken to limit it.

Control and enforcement of hunting legislation against poaching is adequately done through cooperation between environmental protection organisations, hunting organisations gendarmerie and the Environmental Guard.
It is essential to inventory breeding areas, both actual and potential, to identify migration, feeding and aggregation areas important for conservation, and to promote studies on various aspects of the species’ biology, including demographic parameters.


  • Fântână Ciprian, Kovács Istvan, Benkő Zoltán, Daròczi Szilárd, Domșa Cristian, Veres-Szászka Judit (editors), 2022, Atlas of bird species of community interest in Romania, 2nd edition – Love birds, save nature!, Project financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Large Infrastructure Operational Programme 2014-2020, Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests- Biodiversity Directorate, scientific coordination Romanian Ornithological Society and Association for the Protection of Birds and Nature Milvus Group, produced by EXCLUS PROD SRL, p. 312-313;
  • Lars Svensson, Hakan Delin, 1988, Ghid fotografic al păsărilor din Marea Britanie și Europa, Bufnițe, 190, Chancellor Press, Londra.
  • Svensson (text and maps), 2017, Guide to bird identification. Europe and the Mediterranean area, translation and adaptation into Romanian: Romanian Ornithological Society, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p.232;
  • Radu Dimitrie, 1983, Mic atlas ornitologic, Edit. Albatros, Bucharest, p. 143
Follow Us