At between 60 and 80g in weight and with a wingspan under 50cm, the African Scops-Owl is one of the smallest owl species on the continent. It inhabits savannas, especially those dominated by thorn trees or mopane, and dry, open woodlands. They feed primarily on insects but will also prey on small mammals, birds, geckos and frogs. By day they are expertly camouflaged, roosting against tree trunks with their cryptic markings blending in perfectly with the textures of the bark. At night, their distinctive “prrrp” call is a familiar sound in many of our favourite wild places.
In southern Africa the Scops-Owl breeds in cavities in trees during late winter and spring. Pairs are monogamous, and the female incubates the clutch of 2-6 eggs for three weeks while the male brings food to her on the nest. After hatching the female stays with the chicks for another two weeks, at which point both parents need to hunt to feed the growing brood. The chicks leave the nest when they’re about a month old.
In South Africa, the African Scops-Owl is found in Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West and the Kalahari regions of the Northern Cape, with a small and seemingly isolated population on the Eastern Cape coast and adjacent interior between East Londen and Port Elizabeth. North of our borders they occur widely over sub-Saharan Africa. The IUCN describes it as common throughout this range and considers the African Scops-Owl of least concern.
An African Scops-Owl that routinely roosts outside the reception office at Satara in the Kruger National Park must be one of the most photographed individuals of its species.