October 2021

Three little owls


Three little owls

This month I thought I would shed some light on the three smallest owl species we find at Singita Sabi Sand. I will go through some of the similarities as well as how to differentiate between these three species. The species we will look at are the African scops owl, the African barred owlet and pearl-spotted owlet.

The smallest owl in Africa, the African scops owl, is one that is often heard but rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits and incredible camouflage. Easily identified by its diminutive size, yellow eyes and grey colouration.

The African barred owlet is probably the one that is least heard out of the three species mentioned. This owlet can be identified by the barring on the chest compared to the streaked chest of the pearl-spotted owlet. This owl is slightly bigger by just one inch than the pearl-spotted owlet.

The pearl-spotted owlet, is a great bird to listen out for as the pair sings in duet with one another, usually at dusk and dawn. Their unmistakable call stays in the memory of even the most novice birder. The “false eyes” on the back of the head, and streaked chest, are diagnostic for this species.

These three owls occupy a niche in the environment where they hunt small prey ranging from insects, lizards, birds and occasionally rodents. The minute size makes them efficient at hunting their prey normally from a perch where the swoop down on their unsuspecting victim.
Another similarity is that they all nest in holes in tree cavities, normally made by woodpeckers. These holes are so important in protecting vulnerable chicks.