IDENTIFICATION Collared Scops Owl is a medium-sized (23–25cm) sandy-brown owl, spotted and mottled dark brown and black, with relatively pointed wings and rather long, dark-spotted ear-tufts. Eyes are dark brown to orange.
Song – This owl always contains downward-inflected notes.
Similar species: Sunda, Singapore Scops, Indian and Japanese Scops Owls are similar in size and coloration but are easily distinguished by their different songs: Sunda Scops, which is darker above and has longer ear-tufts, utters a melodious ‘questioning’, upward-inflected woouk (male) or higher-pitched woik (female); Indian Scops gives more yelping, unmelodious notes with an upward inflection, such as wuatt or what?; Singapore Scops utters a clear ‘kwookh’ at intervals of c.14 seconds, and Japanese Scops utters deep notes with no inflection.
VOCALISATIONS The song is a single hoot, repeated at somewhat longer intervals (15–20 seconds) than the quite different notes of Sunda, Singapore, and Indian Scops Owls. Males utter a downward-inflected kwúo and females a slightly higher-pitched and more mewing kwiau, duetting during courtship. When disturbed, both sexes utter a series of chattering notes: wakwakwakwakwak… or uattuattuattuattuatt.
DISTRIBUTION E Himalayas from E Nepal east to Assam, south to E Bengal, Burma, Thailand, Hainan, S China, and Taiwan.
MOVEMENTS Migrates to South India and Malay Peninsula in winter.
HABITAT: Forest, scrub, second growth, also groves of trees and bamboo stands around habitations, open country, and towns. From plains and submontane tracts to c.2400m.
DESCRIPTION O. l. lettia Adult Resembles Sunda and Singapore Scops Owls, but larger and distinctly paler-coloured above, with long, dark-spotted ear-tufts. Light buffish-brown above, mottled, spotted and freckled with black and buff, and pale grey-buff (grey-brown morph) or more rufousbuff (rufous morph). Scapulars with pale buffish feathers, forming an indistinct stripe on the wing.
Two pale collars on the hindneck. Underparts pale brown with small arrowhead-like shaft streaks. Tarsus is fully feathered to the base of toes. Juvenile Mesoptile with narrow, irregular dark barring overall. The feathering of tarsi usually extends on to toes. Bare parts Iris dark brown to orange-brown. Bill greenish-horn, paler at tip; lower mandible pale dusky yellow. Toes and claws fleshy-grey to dusky olive; pads yellowish-white.
MEASUREMENTS AND WEIGHT: Total length 23–25cm, females usually larger than males. Wing 158–188mm, tail 75–102mm. Weight 108–170g.
GEOGRAPHICAL VARIATION We recognize five subspecies. O. l. lettia (Hodgson, 1836). E Himalayas to E Assam, E Bengal, Burma, and Thailand. See Description. We include alboniger and manipurensis as synonyms. Wing 158–180mm, tail 75–91mm. O. (l.) erythrocampe (Swinhoe, 1874). S China. Upperparts brown with buff markings, less greyish than nominate race, with white supercilia, very similar to Japanese Scops Owl. Eyes more golden-brown to chestnut. Wing 165–180mm, tail 75–94mm. Perhaps specifically distinct according to DNA evidence.
l. glabripes (Swinhoe, 1870). Taiwan. Similar in plumage to Japanese Scops Owl, but has totally bare toes. Wing 178–188mm, tail 94–102mm. O. l. umbratilis (Swinhoe, 1870). Hainan. Compared with glabripes, somewhat paler above and with darker markings. Smaller in size. Wing 161–183mm, tail 84–91mm. O. l. plumipes (Hume, 1870). NW Himalayas from Murree to Naini.
Toes densely feathered as in Japanese Scops Owl, and rather similar in plumage to that species. Differs, however, in vocalizations (song with downwards inflected notes) and in dark brown eyes (red to orange-yellow in Japanese). Wing 173–185mm, tail 80–94mm.
Nocturnal, and rarely seen by day. Spends daytime lurking in some dark corner on a densely foliaged branch perched upright and motionless, effectively disguised as a branch-stump. Its presence is revealed by its distinctive voice; singing continues intermittently throughout the night, in runs of 10–15 minutes’ duration or longer.
Beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects, but in general have a more varied diet than Sunda and Indian Scops Owls, including lizards, mice, and small birds. An individual of the nominated race, shot at 02:30 hours (when singing), had their stomach packed with a freshly ingested mouse.
Season February–May. Nests in a natural cavity or woodpecker hole in a tree trunk or dead stump, mostly at moderate height (c.2–5 m up). Eggs three or four, rarely five, similar in shape and color to those of related species: 32.3 x 28. Incubation period and other details of breeding biology unrecorded.
STATUS AND CONSERVATION: It is Widespread but local, but generally not uncommon where it occurs.
REMARKS: Otus lettia, O. lempiji, O. cnephaeus, O. mentawi, O.fuliginosus, O. semitorques and O. bakkamoena have in the past been lumped together as a single species: Otus bakkamoena. Although they are all very similar in plumage, they are vocally and genetically distinct. The entire group urgently needs revision to determine to which species the various taxa hitherto described should be attributed as subspecies. After considering the morphology and zoogeography of the taxon plumipes we recognize it as a subspecies of O. lettia and not of O. bakkamoena.
Read More – Biak Scops Owl
Reference – Owls of the World – by Claus Kِnig and Friedhelm Weick