Overview

Distribution

Otus trichopsis (whiskered screech-owl), is found from southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico to northern Nicaragua, and it is found almost everywhere in between, provided there is suitable habitat.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

  • Gehlbach, F., N. Gehlbach. 2000. Whiskered Screech-Owl (Otus trichopsis). Pp. 1-23 in A Poole, F Gill, A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 507. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: RESIDENT: from southeastern Arizona, northeastern Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Nuevo Leon south through mountains of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to northern Nicaragua (AOU 1983). Primarily at elevations of 4,000-6,000 ft (National Geographic Society 1983) (presumably this pertains to the U.S.).

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Physical Description

Morphology

Whiskered screech-owls are small owls 17.5 to 18.9 cm long, weighing 85 to 98 g. They have prominent ear-tufts, yellow-olive bills, and feathered toes. They are usually grey with rusty tones (females are darker). A rufous morph and a brownish variant of grey occur, mostly in the Latin American portion of their range. Adults have distinct whisker-like extensions of facial disk feathers and a golden to orangish iris.

Range mass: 85 to 98 g.

Range length: 17.5 to 18.9 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 18 cm

Weight: 92 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Whiskered screech-owls are found in montane woodlands and forests as well as riparian canyon forests. They can be found at elevations between 1000 to 2900 m.

Range elevation: 1000 to 2900 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Comments: Dense oak and oak-pine woodlands. Subtropical and lower Temperate zones. Usually found at higher elevations where range overlaps western screech-owl (National Geographic Society 1983). Nests in a natural tree cavity or an abandoned woodpecker hole. Nest trees in Arizona include oak, walnut, sycamore, and juniper.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Whiskered screech-owls use a sit-and-wait strategy when hunting. They capture prey with their feet and bill. They find prey on foliage, tree trunks, leaf litter and the ground. Insects, including caterpillars, are their primary food, but their diet incorporates a variety of arthropods, lizards, snakes, birds, bats, shrews, and mice.

Whiskered screech-owls will cache food in unused nest cavities.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore )

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Comments: Feeds mainly on insects (e.g., moths, mantises, grasshoppers, beetles); prey length size often about 15 mm (range 6-75 mm). Evidently captures flying insects in air, also captures prey on vegetation and on ground (Johnsgard 1988).

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Associations

Whiskered screech-owls have an impact on the prey they eat.

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Whiskered Screech-owl pairs bark at predators that come in the vicinity of their nest. The nest is vulnerable to gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), green rat snakes (Senticolis triaspis), coatis (genus Nasua) and raccoons (Procyon lotor). Spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) and Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii) are known adult predators.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Otus trichopsis is prey of:
Nasua
Pituophis melanoleucus
Accipiter cooperii
Strix occidentalis
Procyon lotor
Senticolis triaspis

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Otus trichopsis preys on:
Arthropoda
Insecta
Reptilia
Aves
Mammalia

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Territory size in pine-oak habitat is about 300 m in diameter. Home range of breeding pairs ranged from 1.9 to 5.0 (mean 3.3) linear hectares along permanent creek; this equivalent to 1525 to 1550 meters of creek (Gehlbach and Gehlbach 2000).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Songs consist of multiple notes with intervals between notes. Intervals are normally less than twice the note duration and they have higher-frequency harmonics (Van der Weyden, 1975). Males also make a short trill that is three to fifteen notes and lasts 1.0 to 2.5 seconds (Jacot, 1931; Martin, 1974). The emphatic trill, a variant of the short trill, rises slightly to a louder third note then falls (Gehlbach and Gehlbach, 2000).

Communication Channels: acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

  • Jacot, E. 1931. Notes on the Spotted and Flammulated screech-owls in Arizona. Condor, 33: 8-11.
  • Martin, D. 1974. Copulatory and vocal behavior of a pair of whiskered owls. Auk, 91: 619-624.
  • Van der Weyden, W. 1975. Scops and screech owls: vocal evidence for a basic subdivision in the genus Otus (Strigidae). Ardea, 63: 66-77.
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Life Expectancy

We do not have information on lifespan/longevity for this species at this time.

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Reproduction

Whiskered screech-owls are monogamous with pair bonds lasting at least one mating season. Copulation is preceeded by a female whistle which is accompanied by male telegraphic trill. There is no obvious courtship feeding. Each copulation lasts approximately five seconds.

Mating System: monogamous

Breeding occurs in April and May. Females lay 2 to 4 eggs per clutch; eggs are incubated for 26 days, on average. Chicks fledge after 24 to 30 days.

Breeding season: April and May

Range eggs per season: 2 to 4.

Average time to hatching: 26 days.

Range fledging age: 24 to 30 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

Only female whiskered screech-owls incubate the eggs. Females stay on the eggs at all times except for brief recesses at dusk and before dawn. Males provision incubating females.

Young are semi-altricial with downy white feathers, bare pinkish skin, closed eyes, and an egg tooth. After twenty days their average mass is 75 grams. Males hunt and transfer food to females inside or outside the nest cavity while she is brooding. Females hunt when nestlings are one to two weeks old and are no longer brooded. Fledglings initially have weak flying skills and stay near the parents; they are closely attended by their parents in the first week. Fledglings begin to catch insects in two to three weeks but do poorly at first. They beg to parents and are fed for at least four weeks but probably longer.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

  • Gehlbach, F., N. Gehlbach. 2000. Whiskered Screech-Owl (Otus trichopsis). Pp. 1-23 in A Poole, F Gill, A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 507. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.
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Eggs found in Arizona suggest laying in April. Clutch size is 3-4.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Megascops trichopsis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Whiskered screech-owls are threatened in New Mexico, because they are restricted to the Peloncillo-Guadalupe Mountains and in El Salvador because of habitat loss. They are protected under the US MBTA and are listed under Appendix II by CITES, but are not listed by the US ESA or the IUCN.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

  • Komar, O. 1998. Avian diversity in El-Salvador. Wilson Bulletin, 110(4): 511-533.
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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population Trend
Increasing
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

There are no known adverse affects of whiskered screech-owls on humans.

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We do not have information on economic importance for humans for this species at this time.

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Wikipedia

Whiskered screech owl

The whiskered screech owl (Megascops trichopsis), is a small scops owl found in North and Central America.

Description[edit]

Adults occur in 2 color morphs, in either brown or dark grey plumage. They have a round head with ear tufts, yellow eyes and a yellowish bill. The bird looks very similar to a western screech owl, but has heavier barring on the breast, and is slightly smaller in size.

Range and habitat[edit]

The whiskered screech owl's range extends from southeasternmost Arizona (the Madrean sky islands region) in the United States, southwards through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, to north central Nicaragua.[1] Their breeding habitat is dense coniferous or oak woodlands, and coffee plantations usually occurring at higher elevations than the western screech owl.

Behavior[edit]

These birds wait on a perch and swoop down on prey; they also capture targeted food items in flight. They mainly eat small mammals and large insects, with grasshoppers, beetles, moths making up a large portion of their diet. They are active at night or near dusk, using their excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey.

The most common call is a series of about 8 regularly spaced "boo" notes, slightly higher in the middle, slightly lower at each end.

3 to 4 eggs are usually laid in April or May, usually found in a tree cavity or old woodpecker hole 5 to 7 meters above the ground.

Subspecies[edit]

There are 3 recognized subspecies:[2]

References[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Formerly treated as a subgenus within Otus (Marshall and King in Amadon and Bull 1988), but mitochondrial DNA and vocal differences with Old World species indicate that generic status is warranted (Konig et al. 1999).

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