Otus senegalensis (African scops-owl) 

Skopsuil [Afrikaans]; Kakuru (also applied to other owl species) [Kwangali]; Chipotonho [Shona]; Xikhotlwana (also applied to Marsh owl) [Tsonga]; Lerubisana (applied to a number of other owl species) [Tswana]; Afrikaanse dwergooruil [Dutch]; Petit-duc africain [French]; Afrikanische zwergohreule [German]; Mocho-de-orelhas-africano [Portuguese]

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Otus senegalensis (African scops-owl)  Otus senegalensis (African scops-owl) 

African scops-owl. [photo Callie de Wet ]

African scops-owl, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Tony Faria ].

The African scops-owl can be found in many places in southern Africa, being most abundant in central Namibia, Botswana and north-eastern South Africa. It usually lives in arid savanna woodland. It can also be found in valley bushveld in the Eastern cape. Being only 14-18 cm high, it mainly eats invertebrates, with the remainder being made up of small birds, mammals and reptiles. It usually nests in cavities in trees. It lays 2-4 eggs that are incubated by the female, while the male hunts. The eggs hatch after about 22 days, and the chicks remain in the nest for 25-28 days, after which they leave the nest for the surrounding bush.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the equatorial forest of West Africa and the DRC. In southern Africa it is locally common in northern and central Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and northern and south-eastern South Africa. It generally prefers arid savanna woodland, especially with Mopane (Colosphermum mopane) trees or Acacia parklands, usually with nearby rivers or streams. It may also move into valley bushveld among coastal forest and grassland.

Distribution of African scops-owl in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It eats mainly arthropods, supplemented with small birds, mammals and reptiles. It hunts by flying from perch to perch, trying to locate prey. Once prey is spotted, it swoops down and grabs the animal with its talons. If it misses it will sometimes pursue its quarry on the ground.. The following prey items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Mainly nests in natural tree cavities 1.2-9 m above ground, usually where the trunk has snapped off, a branch has broken off, or a hole has been rotted in into the tree. It also nests in holes made by woodpeckers, cavities among sticks of old vulture nests and nest boxes.
  • Egg-laying season is from June-November.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by the female for about 22 days. The male hunts for both of them, usually bringing five prey items an hour to the nest, usually at dusk or dawn.
  • For the first 12 days of their life they are brooded by the female, after which both sexes do the hunting, often bringing 70 prey items a night to the nest. The chicks leave the nest when they are 75% of the adult size, at about 25-28 days old.


Not threatened, but possibly impacted by bush clearance and overgrazing in the Eastern Cape's valley bushveld.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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