The scops owl is a regular spring and autumn migrant. It breeds in southern Europe and parts of North Africa and to the east all the way to central Asia
It passes through the Maltese islands from late March to early May and again from early September to mid-October. Some birds migrate all the way to Africa south of the Sahara while some spend the winter in the southernmost parts of Europe occasionally one or two spend the winter in the Maltese islands.
Scops owl build their nest in a hole in a tree, wall or rock and when available they use purposely built nest boxes. Being a southern European bird the scops would probably breed in the Maltese islands if it were allowed to do so.
The scops owl is one of the smaller owls of Europe. Its feathers are shades of brown and grey and it is very well camouflaged when standing in front of a tree trunk. It is a nocturnal bird and although a fairly good number visit the Maltese islands few are seen because it spends all day sleeping in a tree close to the trunk well hidden from predators.
The scops owl is also known as the European or Eurasian scops owl and kokka in Maltese. Its name gave rise to the expression toqgħod kokka which would be translated as to squat like a scops owl.
Scops owls feed on insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, moths and cicadas as well as other invertebrates including spiders, caterpillars and earthworms. Occasionally they also catch small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Scops owls have good nocturnal vision but when it is completely dark they rely more on their sense of hearing to detect prey.
The Eurasian scops owl is one of several species of scops owls found around the world. About forty five species are known but new species are still regularly discovered especially in parts of Asia.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 24 April 2014.