The mottled owl (Strix virgata) is a medium sized owl that gets its name from its mottled brown head and back. Females are considerably larger than males, and this species shows the largest amount of sexual dimorphism of any species of owl.
Found in Central and South America, including Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil, these owls live in forests and jungles. They prey on small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. The mottled owl has a wide range and is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
Mottled Owl Characteristics
Mottled owls are medium sized owls, with females considerably larger than males and showing the largest amount of sexual dimorphism of all owls. They can measure between 280 to 355 mm (11.0 to 14.0 in) in length, with a weight of between 176 and 345g.
The mottled owl is, as its name suggests, mottled darkish brown on its crown, nape and back, with an off-white throat, breast and belly that are streaked brown. It has a pale brown facial disk, with white eyebrows and whiskers, and brown eyes. Its beak can be greyish-yellow or greyish-blue, and its legs are greyish-yellow. It does not have ear tufts.
In some areas of the mottled owl’s range, a darker form of the bird with a buff breast and belly variant can be found.
Mottled Owl Location And Habitat
The mottled owl is native to Central and South America and can be found up to about 2,500 m (8,200 ft), from Mexico south to Venezuela and Ecuador, to northeast Argentina and southeast Brazil.
These owls can have a variety of different habitats, including woodland verges, rainforest, dry thorn forest, pine-oak woodland and open areas with scattered trees. It is not uncommon to find the mottled owl in human habitats, close to towns and villages.
Mottled Owl Diet
The mottled owl perches in trees along forest edges watching for their prey. They have very good hearing, allowing them to pinpoint prey even in pitch black. They have good vision too, although they are colour blind. The feathers on their wings help to dampen the sound of the mottled owl in flight, so they can creepy up on their prey.
Mottled Owl Behaviour
The mottled owl is a nocturnal species, and becomes active at dusk. During the day, the mottled owl sleeps in the leaves of trees and foliage. They are solitary birds, and when awake, spend their time hunting, grooming themselves, and stretching.
The mottled owl is known to use calls and vocalisations to communicate with others or ward off prey. They use hoots, whistles, screeches and hisses. Males generally have a lower pitched hoot than females.
Little is known about the mottled owl’s breeding activity. They are monogamous birds and their breeding season depends on their location. In Colombia, they breed between February and May, and in Argentina, between September to November.
The mottled owl usually nests in a hole in the tree or the empty nest of other birds. The female lays between 1 to 2 eggs, which are white in colour. While the female incubates the eggs, the males search for food and bring it back to the nest.
Once the owlets are hatched, both parents care for the young.
Fascinating Facts About The Mottled Owl
- The mottled owl lacks colour vision.
- The mottled owl can rotate its head to see in almost all directions!
- Thanks to its large distribution, the mottled owl is not considered to be an endangered species.
- Mottled owls clap their wings in flight as part of their mating display.
- The mottled owl can produce clicking noises with their tongue when they feel threatened.