Tropical Screech Owl

(Otus choliba)
The Tropical Screech Owl or Otus choliba (also known as Spix’s Screech Owl) is one of the six species across T&T that gets much less attention than it merits. It belongs to the genus Otus, which exists in both the Tropical and Temperate regions of the world excluding the Australian region. It ranks as the second smallest owl in T&T, measuring 7.8 -9.5 inches in length and is strictly nocturnal. In addition to Trinidad & Tobago, it ranges from Costa Rica to North Argentina, Paraguay, Southern Brazil and parts of Venezuela. This owl can be identified by its short ear tufts, greyish-brown head and dark streaks on the crown and upper part of the body. Its facial disc is brown and outlined in white. The under part of this owl is pale grey with fine dark cross-streaks. However, perhaps the easiest way of identifying this owl is by its call. One can hear screech-like hoots in quick succession leading up to a loud single or double note. Tropical Screech Owls normally forage alone for a variety of small and large invertebrates, including grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, moths and leaf-cutting ants. Sometimes there may even be a small bird on the menu! Foraging often takes place on roadsides, resulting in roadside casualties. They, like many other owls, play an important role in controlling the population of many types of invertebrates. Although these owls are mainly found in forests and the forest edge, they can also be found living in coffee plantations and orchards as evidenced by their calls. They commonly nest in tree cavities or woodpecker holes during the February to May period. At this time, a bird would lay between one and four eggs. After being incubated by the female, they hatch and 30 days later are ready for flight. Recently, staff at the Asa Wright Nature Centre had the fortune of hosting an injured Tropical Screech Owl for a few days. The poor fellow was too weak to even fly, but after three days of close monitoring and care, he was as animated as one can imagine. Lovingly named “Frank,” he was released on the Spring Hill Estate, after his exclusive photo shoot of course. How many species of owls have you seen in your neighbourhood?