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Megascops petersoni

Cinnamon Screech-Owl

  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S



Megascops are small owls with large heads and relatively short tails; many species also have a tuft of feathers ("ear tufts") on either side of the head. Cinnamon Screech-Owl is a small Megascops with warm buffy brown or rufescent plumage, "ear tufts" of medium length, a narrow buffy nuchal collar, nearly fully feathered tarsi, and dark brown irides.

Similar Species

Cinnamon Screech-Owl is very similar to Rufescent Screech-Owl (Megascops ingens), with which Cinnamon often is sympatric; but Cinnamon Screech-Owl is smaller and even more rufescent  in color, completely lacking white in plumage. Cinnamon Screech-Owl also is very similar to the Colombian Screech-Owl (Megascops colombianus), but Colombian and Cinnamon screech-owls are allopatric, and Colombian Screech-Owl is larger than Cinnamon Screech-Owl.


The primary song of Cinnamon Screech-Owl is similar to that of Rufescent Screech-Owl (Megascops ingens), and consists of a flat series of hoots; compared to the song of Rufescent Screech-Owl, the song of Cinnamon is faster (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

The aggressive song of Cinnamon Screech-Owl begins with a fast pace, then abruptly shifts to a slower pace and rises in pitch: pu-pu-pu-pu-pu pu pu pu pu pu" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Cinnamon Screech-Owl also has whining notes, which perhaps are given only by the female (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Cinnamon Screech-Owl can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Fitzpatrick and O'Neill (1986); see also König and Weick (2008):

Adult: Sexes similar. Upperparts cinnamon brown. Feathers of crown and back finely vermiculated with double wavy bars, alternating between dark brownish and paler buffy brown. Nuchal collar pale buff, these feathers tipped with one-three dark brown bars. "Ear tufts" moderately long; buffy at base and brownish, mottled with blackish, towards the tips. Scapulars pale cinnamon and unmarked, forming a row of light buffy patches between the back and the wings. Tertials and wing coverts patterned as the feathers of the back, but slightly paler brown, and the wavy crossbars not as dark. Outer webs of remiges banded with alternating bars of brown and blackish. Inner webs of remiges mostly dusky, the terminal tip barred with paler brown. Rectrices banded brown and blackish (with eight bands of each color), the banding pattern decomposing to mottling towards the tips of the rectrices. Facial disks warm brown (similar in color to the back), most feathers finely barred with blackish, and the rim of the facial disks blackish. Superciliary area and interorbital tufts pale buffy. Underparts strongly and uniformly rich cinnamon buff. Feathers of throat and breast finely mottled with wavy bands of warm dark brown. Lower breast, upper belly and flanks almost uniformly cinnamon, but each feather with a dark brown shaft streal and one-three thin, wavy transverse brown bars near the tip. Lower belly and undertail coverts unmarked cinnamon.

The plumage is individually variable, ranging from "brown" through "red" color types, although this variation does not form discrete color morphs; most specimens "exhibit mosaics of intermediate characters" (Fitzpatrick and O'Neill 1986: 5). 

Juvenile: Undescribed.

Bare Parts

Iris: dark brown

Bill: bill pale gray green

Toes: pale pinkish flesh; tarsi feathered to within 5 mm of the toes, although the feathering becomes sparse distally

Bare parts color data from Fitzpatrick and O'Neill (1986).


Total length: 23-24 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b)

Linear measurements (from Fitzpatrick and O'Neill 1986):

male (n = 6):

wing length (chord), mean 157 mm (range 153-165.5 mm)

tail length, mean 85.6 mm (range 81-90 mm)

culmen length, mean 21.5 mm (range 21-22.5 mm)

female (n = 3):

wing length (chord), mean 157.3 mm (range 155-161.5 mm)

tail length, mean 86.8 mm (range 85-90.5 mm)

culmen length, mean 21.5 mm (range 21-22 mm)

Mass (from Fitzpatrick and O'Neill 1986):

male (n = 6), mean 97 g (range 88-119 g)

female (n = 3), mean 98 g (range 92-105 g)


Very little information. The original series of specimens was collected in July and August, and all specimens show light body molt; two specimens also show molt on the rectrices and on the primaries (Fitzpatrick and O'Neill 1986).

Geographic Variation



Described as Otus petersoni by Fitzpatrick and O'Neill 1986, with a type locality of "Cordillera del Cóndor, above San José de Lourdes, Dept. Lourdes, Peru, 5º02'S, 78º51'W, elevation 1950". This species is named in honor of Roger Tory Peterson, "in recognition of his many lasting contributions to field ornithology, conservation, and wildlife art".

Phylogenetic relationships within the genus Megascops remain poorly known. The few studies published to date include only a small number of species of Megascops, and have not yielded consistent patterns of relationships (e.g. Wink et al. 2008). Fitzpatrick and O'Neill (1986) proposed that petersoni is most closely related to other species of South American screech-owls with brown irides: Megascops ingens (Rufescent Screech-Owl), Megascops colombianus (Colombian Screech-Owl)Megascops watsonii (Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl), and Megascops marshalli (Cloud-forest Screech-Owl), and petersoni and colombianus were sister taxa. König and Weick (2008) suggest that petersoni may be closer to watsonii or marshalli than to ingens or colombianus.

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S. 2012. Cinnamon Screech-Owl (Megascops petersoni), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: