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Tropical Screech-Owl
A Reference for North and Central American Owls

 The Tropical Screech-Owl is distinctive with its boldly black outlined facial disk. Like most screech owls, positive identification is best done by their calls.  Here you can find photos and information to help identify and enjoy this beautiful owl. The Field Notes section includes a Central American range map and information on nesting, habitat, description and identification.  To jump immediately to any of these sections use the Page Jump Links below.

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Field Notes and Range Map 


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Tropical Screech-Owl Photo


Tropical Screech-Owl Photo

Panama City, Panama
January 2011
Volcan, Panama
March 2009

Tropical Screech-Owl Photo


Tropical Screech-Owl Photo

San Jose, Costa Rica
April 2008
Volcan, Panama
March 2009

FIELD NOTES and Range Map
Tropical Screech-Owl - Megascops choliba

Range Map  
The Tropical Screech-Owl is a strictly nocturnal owl and is not active until well after dark. Occurs in grey-brown, brown, and very rare rufous morphs. Facial disk light grey or tan with prominant black border. Crown and upperparts are heavily dark or black streaked. Underparts have prominate dark or black vertical streaks with fine cross streaks. Tarsis (leg above feet) is feathered; iris yellow, bill is greenish grey with yellow tip. It is a medium size screech-owl that is about the same size as the Vermiculated Screech-Owls (7.8 - 9.5 inches in length). There is some overlap in range with Vermiculated and maybe Pacific Screech-Owls but the black borders around the facial disc of the Tropical Screech-Owl readily separate it from these other species.

The Tropical Screech-Owl can be found in open woodland, second growth, forest clearings and edge, streamside groves, coffee plantations, forest clearings, semi-open or suburban areas with trees, and town parks. Generally it t ranges from 1300 ft to 500ft in Central America but can be much higher in South America (almost 9,000 ft).

It feeds mostly on large insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, bumblebees, spiders, scorpions, and moths. Ocassionally it will take snakes and small mammals such as rats and bats. Usually it pearches on low branches and pounces on prey but will also take insects in flight often at electric lights.

Nests in tree cavity, woodpecker hole, knothole, or old nest box. Usually lays 1-4 eggs from Februrary to April. The incubation is done by the female and the young leave the nest at 30 days old. Young with whitish down.

Little is known about its population although it is not considered globally threatened and may be the most common screech-owl of Costa Rica and Panama. Only one race is reconized in Central America with an additional eight reconized from South America. Several others have been described although further research is required.

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