Scops Owl

© Shem Compion
Southern white-faced scops owl.


Southern white-faced scops owl (Ptilopsis granti)


The genus Otus can largely be divided into two types of owls, the screech owls of the New World and the scops of the Old World. There are about 40 different owls in the group spread right across the globe. Most of the Otus owls are inhabitants of tropical regions. Because of several distinctions from other scops owls, the white-faced owls of Africa with their huge eyes and striking facial coloration were given its own Genus - Ptilopsis. These owls are also known as southern white-faced scops owls. It is larger than the African scops owl (Otus senegalensis) and has orange not yellow eyes. This scops owl is mostly resident throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara.


The nocturnal scops owl is small and grey with a striking white face surrounded by black edging. They have large prominent ear-tufts and their eyes are orange. They have the largest ear openings of any scops owl. The southern white-faced scops owl is about 19-24 cm.

Scops Owl Diet

Like other small owls, the white-faced scops owl is insectivorous, although they mostly eat small birds, rodents, and other small mammals. It hunts by flying from perch to perch and once prey is spotted, it descends to the ground to grab it with its talons.

Scops Owl Breeding

Their breeding season varies greatly. In Zimbabwe, it is from August to November and further south it is July to February. The southern white-faced scops owl often nests in abandoned nests but will also use tree hollows and have been known to use ground nest sites. Two to four shiny, white eggs are laid at intervals and incubation begins immediately. It takes about 30 days and chicks move out onto nearby branches at about 4 weeks old. They begin to fly a few days later.

Scops Owl Behaviour

The white-faced scops owl is fully nocturnal and prefers scrub and bush territory. Their colouration and quiet pose make them very difficult to detect during the day. If they are disturbed they can elongate their bodies and lean sideways, which will help them resemble the branches on which they roost. They also narrow their very bright eyes into slits, making their faces less visible. To increase their size and create the illusion of being more aggressive they will open and raise their wings as well as fluff their feathers to create a large “semi-circle” around their bodies. At night the call is a series of fast, bubbling hoots.


The southern white-faced scops owl prefers areas with scattered thorn trees, Acacia forests, savanna and woodland with scarce patches of ground cover.

Where they are found

The white-faced scops owl within southern Africa is locally common in north-eastern South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.