Tropical Screech-Owl Megascops choliba

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


Geographic Variation

Nine subspecies generally are recognized (Dickinson 2003, König and Weick 2008). The following synopsis is based on König and Weick (2008):

M. c. choliba (Vieillot 1817): Occurs in southern Mato Grosso and São Paulo, Brazil, south to eastern Paraguay.

M. c. luctisomus (Bangs and Pernard 1921): Occurs from the Pacific slope in Costa Rica south to the Canal Zone in Panama, and on the Pearl Islands.

M. c. margaritae (Cory 1915): Restricted to Margarita Island off of northern Venezuela. Paler than nominate choliba.

M. c. crucigerus (Spix 1824): Occurs from eastern Colombia, Venezuela, and Trinidad east to the Guianas and south to eastern Peru.  Body feathers have fluffy yellowish spots.

M. c. duidae (Chapman 1929): Confined to upper forested slopes of Mount Duida and Mount Neblina in southern Venezuela. This is a very dark subspecies with a rather uniform crown and a broken, whitish, collar on hindneck; this is the only subspecies of Tropical Screech-Owl with a white band across that back of the neck. Perhaps represents a separate species.

M. c. decussatus (Lichtenstein 1823): Occurs in central and southern Brazil. Smaller and paler than crucigerus, with whitish spots on the mantle.

M. c. uruguaiensis (Hekstra 1982): Occurs in southeastern Brazil (Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul), northeastern Argentina and in Uruguay. Shaft streaks on underparts are rather prominent; body feathers with buffy-rufous downs.

M. c. surutus (L. Kelso 1941):  Found in Bolivia. Brighter rufous than crucigerus, and the streaks and bars are more reduced.

M. c. wetmorei (Brodkorb 1937): Occurs in the chaco of Paraguay and Argentina,  south to Mendoza and northernf Buenos Aires. Darker than decussatus and underparts more dirty-buff.

Related Species

The Tropical Screech-Owl formerly was classified in the genus Otus, but phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence data revealed that the Old World (scops-owls) and New World (screech-owls) species of Otus were not closely related (Wink and Heidrich 1999). Consequently, most New World species of Otus, including choliba, were transferred to the genus Megascops.

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). Proposed by König et al. (1999) and König and Weick (2008) that the Tropical Screech-Owl has "no very close relatives in South America."

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.