By Rowan Hooper
Japanese name: Ookonohazuku
Scientific name: Otus bakkamoena lempiji
Description: For an owl, this is a small bird, but for a Scops Owl, it’s on the large side if it gets to 20-24 cm long and 100-170 grams’ weight. These owls have large tufted “eyebrows,” a grayish collar on the nape and large orange eyes in a white or buff face. The toes of the Japanese and Chinese subspecies are covered in feathers. Being nocturnal, you are more likely to hear than see one, however, although the voice is an almost pitiful catlike mew. The coloration and patterning of these owls varies a lot, and indeed there is some confusion about the taxonomic status of the species. They fly in a deeply undulating pattern; in the day they can sometimes be spotted because they will be mobbed by small birds.
Where to find them: All over Japan, in mountain forests and also lowlands in the north, although they are uncommon everywhere. They spend winters in warmer areas and sometimes live in woods near human habitation. Collared Scops Owls nest in hollow trees, rocks, old buildings and the old nests of other birds, where they lay up to five eggs.
Food: Mainly insects, but also lizards, small mammals (including bats) and small birds. Scops Owls will also eat frogs, worms and even aquatic insects. They hunt by flying from a perch in a semi-open habitat, and rely on a good sense of hearing as well as night vision. They have powerful and sharp claws and bills for ripping prey into manageable chunks for swallowing.
Special features: Unluckily for this species, and rarely among all owls, the Collared Scops Owl is sometimes eaten by humans. “Owl soup” was prescribed as part of a Chinese remedy for consumption and rheumatism. Males and females form monogamous pairs, and males feed the females while they incubate the eggs. Incidentally, a similar species of Scops Owl, known in Japanese as konohazuku, is mentioned in one of the “Harry Potter” books.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET