Black-and-white Owls are solitary or in pairs. They are nocturnal, remaining well hidden during the day. They roost during the day close to the trunk of a tree, well above the ground, and pairs have been observed roosting together (König and Weick 2008).
Black-and-white Owls are considered to be primarily canopy hunters because the majority of their prey consists of bats and flying insects (Ibañez et al. 1992).They have been observed hunting from a perch at the edges of forests and overlooking bodies of water; prey is also hawked in the air or taken on the wing from branches or leaves. They may be conspicuous in fairly open trees at forest edges, and have been observed hunting bats under artificial lights (Howell and Webb 1995).
A study on owl occurrence and calling behavior at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica showed that the Black-and-white Owl is more responsive to audio playback during the dark phases of the moon or on cloudy nights (Enríquez Rocha and Rangel-Salazar 2001).
A radio-tracked male Black-and-white Owl in Tikal National Park, Guatemala, was located 98 times at 37 different diurnal roosts. The most commonly used roost tree species were zapotillo (Diospirus sp.), cedrillo (Guarea sp.), and ramon (Brosimum alicastrum). Overhanging vines were a feature of many perches. Roost heights ranged from 3.5 to 26.0 m (mean = 14.0 m) (Gerhardt et al. 1994b).
A single male Black-and-white Owl home range was estimated using radio telemetry in Tikal National Park, Guatemala during 1989-1991 (Gerhardt et al. 1994b). Home range from the data collected was calculated in several ways. Using all of the data points collected from 13 April – 1 August 1989, and 12 May – 7 July 1990, they found that the home range using 85% harmonic mean was 437.3 ha (minimum convex polygon estimated 261.6 ha); a 50% harmonic mean showed an area of high utilization of 78.2 ha; this high use area included the nest site and a few diurnal roosts and foraging areas. In contrast, when only the subset of data points following nest failure were used, the 85% harmonic mean range was 175.9 ha (minimum convex polygon was 116.4 ha), and the area of high utilization was 50.8 ha. This documents that this male used a much larger home range during the time that the female was on the nest. This Black-and-white Owl had a home range 20 times larger than that of Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) at the same site. Gerhardt et al. (1994b) suggest that this difference in home range may be related to the size difference in the owls and to the difference in prey (Black-and-white Owls prey on bats while Mottled Owls eat small rodents).
Black-and-white Owls are monogamous and sedentary as adults (Gerhardt et al. 1994b).
Sandoval et al. (2008) observed a Black-and-white Owl feeding a second individual. The owl was observed flying with a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) clutched in its talons, to a tree where another individual was perched. The first owl passed the swallow from its bill to the bill of the other owl, and the second owl ate the swallow in one gulp after biting its neck and head while holding it in its talons. This observation could represent a pair bonding behavior.
Social and interspecific behavior
Interactions between Neotropical owl species are not well known but a study of community ecology was conducted at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. Intra- and inter specific calling was studied between five Neotropical rainforest owls: Vermiculated Screech-owl (Megascops guatemalae), Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata), Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata), Black-and-white Owl, and Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) (Enríquez and Rangel-Salazar 1995). Results from the study showed that Black-and-white Owls responded to only two sympatric species – Crested and Spectacled owls – and showed monthly variation in those responses. Black-and-white Owls also responded less to intra- and interspecific broadcasting vocalizations than three other species (Spectacled Owls did not respond at all). Although Black-and-white Owl did not respond to the congeneric Mottled Owl, Mottled Owl did respond to Black-and-white Owl calls. They suggested that the low response level of Black-and-white Owl could be related to the larger home range size of Black-and-white Owl (Enríquez and Rangel Salazar 1997).
No known predators. The chicks in three of four nests, however, disappeared prior to fledging, suggesting the possibility of predation, although no cause was determined (Gerhardt et al. 1994b).