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Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl - BirdForum Opus

Photo by arthurgrosset
Location: Cristalino Lodge, Mato Grosso, Brazil
Southern subspecies usta

Includes: Northern, Southern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Austral Screech-Owl

Megascops watsonii

Otus watsonii


19-24 cm (7½-9½ in), larger in the south. In the northern part of the range described as a dark, medium sized Screech Owl with orange to amber eyes; in the south occurs in slightly more rufous morph and more rarely a dark or a light grey morph but with much individual variation - eyes in this form warm brown to yellow.


East of the Andes in lowland Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, east through Amazonian Brazil, Venezuela and the Guianas. The two forms described below would separate at an east-west line approximately at the Amazon River. Reports from highland (up to 2100 m asl in the northern end of the range (Colombia and Venezuela) may refer to another (undiscribed?) species.


Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl has two subspecies according to Clements checklist, M.w. watsoni and M.w. usta. These two are sometimes treated as separate species where watsoni would become Northern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl or just Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, while usta would become Southern Screech-Owl, Southern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, or Austral Screech-Owl. According to König & Weick "Owls of the world", the two forms occur in the same forest and retain their distinct vocalizations, so the split may be warranted. Additional subspecies have been described but are not widely recognized.

This and almost all Screech-Owls in the Americas have previously been considered to belong in the same genus (Otus) as the European and Asian Scops-Owls, but a reassignment to Megascops have been accepted by, among other authorities, the American Ornithologists' Union.


There are 2 subspecies[1]:

  • M. w. watsonii:
  • M. w. usta:
  • East Peru and southern Amazonian Brazil to northern Mato Grosso and northern Bolivia


Moist lowland forests and swamps, preferring low to medium strata of the forest. Generally in the interior forest, may occur close to clearings and edges.



Food: only described as taking invertebrates, but some vertebrate consumption seems likely.


Nocturnal or crepuscular, often starting song activity relatively early. In the Southern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl range, the song is described as a very prolonged series of slow notes.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. König, C. and F. Weick 2008. Owls of the World, second edition. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 978-0-7136-6548-2
  3. Birdforum thread with description of the song of this species

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