The African scops owl gives a distinctive "prrrp" at five second intervals. It is nevertheless difficult to sight due to its camouflage, small size and cryptic behavior. During roosting in daylight, this species extends its ear tufts to give the impression of a tree branch, making it easily overlooked. The African scops owl is around 15–17cm in length.
The African scops owl produces 4-6 eggs throughout April and June. Incubation about 27 days. The young fledge in 30 days. The African scops owl lays her eggs in a tree hollow.
William John Swainson first described the species in 1837 from a specimen collected in Senegal, and initially assigned it to the now defunct genus Scops. Today the species is assigned to the genus Otus.
There are three subspecies currently recognised:
The African scops owl was formerly regarded as the African subspecies of the scops owl. It was grouped with the Arabian scops owl, Socotra scops owl, and the Annobon scops owl into Otus senegalensis; however these species are now considered to be separate.
The African scops owl is a small owl, measuring 17 cm (6.7 in) in length. It is typically greyish-brown, though sometimes pale rufous or warmer brown, and is cryptically marked with streaks and mottling. Its grey facial disk has a narrow black edge, and its eyes are yellow. It has ear tufts, which are generally kept lowered unless the bird is disturbed. The African scops owl is around 15–17 cm (5.9–6.7 in) in length with a wingspan of 45 cm (18 in).
The African scops owl gives a monotonous quivering distinctive "prrrp" at five second intervals.
The African scops owl is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. It ranges from sea level to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in elevation, and is found in wooded habitats and forest edge, including in gardens and mangroves.
The African scops owl is strictly nocturnal. During the day, it perches close to the trunk of a tree. When roosting in daylight, this species closes its eyes and extends its ear tufts to give the impression of a tree branch, making it easily overlooked. Pairs sometimes roost together. The African scops owl is not as territorial as the Eurasian scops owl and will nest in loose aggregations, with the nest sites relatively close to each other.
The male and female may duet, calling all night both before and after leaving the roost site. The African scops owl lays four to six eggs directly onto the floor of a tree hollow, with laying occurring throughout April and June. Incubation lasts about 27 days, during which the female incubates the eggs and is fed by the male. Once the eggs hatch the young are fed by the female from food brought by the male. The young fledge in 30 days.
The prey of the African scops owl is mainly insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, moths etc. but also spiders, scorpions and small vertebrates. They normally hunt by scanning or listening from a perch and swooping down to capture prey on the ground, but will hawk for flying insects.