Tropical Screech-Owl Megascops choliba

  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Polytypic: 9 subspecies
  • Authors: Gaelyn Ong



Foraging behavior: The Tropical Screech Owl forages from a low level perch and captures prey on the ground, branches, or on wing.

Tropical Screech Owls are nocturnal birds that become active at dusk. During the day they roost in dense foliage of bushes or trees and can often be found within a thorny shrub or in dense epiphytes on tree trunks.

Often, males will start singing a few verses of the B-song from their roosts before flying to song perches.  The males sing the A-song when they are on their song perches.

Adult nest defense behavior: According to Thomas (1977), the first time that the nest box was examined during the day, an adult owl was incubating the eggs and it puffed up its feathers and lifted its "ear tufts." Then it flew out of the box onto the lowest limb of a tree 5 m distant, from where it watched the nest. In addition to the fluffing of feathers and the lifted "ear tufts," Tropical Screech-Owls will snap the bill, sway back and forth sideways, and raise and lower their body using their legs. While brooding, they will throw themselves flat on their back over the nestlings and extend their claws toward the intruder. In flight, they also will strike humans with their claws.

Chick defense behavior: At least a day after hatching chicks will make distress calls or tiny squeaking noises. The distress calls increase in volume as the chicks grow. Chicks start bill snapping after 11 days and shortly after, will use their claws (Thomas 1977). After about two weeks, the chicks display a defense stance similar to the adults. They crouch down on their tarsi and fluff up their feathers. "On the 23rd day the larger nestling threw itself on its back with its legs raised and claws extended, exactly as the adults" (Thomas 1977).


Little is known about the Tropical Screech-Owl's territoriality during non-breeding seasons.

Sexual Behavior

Little information. South of the equator, males usually start singing in August or early September. Courtship mostly occurs in September.  One male in Rio Grande do Sul had enlarged testes in early September (Belton 1984), which indicates sexual activity. During courtship, both sexes are vocally active.

Males advertise possible nesting sites to females by flying to them and singing from the entrance.  

Social and interspecific behavior

Little information. Presumably primarily solitary, but may roost in pairs.


Little information.

Recommended Citation

Ong, G. (2011). Tropical Screech-Owl (Megascops choliba), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.