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Cuban Screech Owl

Gymnoglaux lawrencii

Photo: Cuban screech owl standing against a rock

Photo: Cuban screech owl standing against a rock (View larger version)

Photograph by Steve Winter

Published

The goggle-eyed Cuban screech owl gets its other common name, bare-legged owl, from its featherless lower appendages. While most of the world’s more than 200 owl species wear feathers down to their toes, the Cuban screech owl’s warm tropical habitat appears to have encouraged it to evolve permanent Bermuda shorts.

These nocturnal birds of prey are endemic only to Cuba, and their substantial range covers nearly the entire island. They prefer forest and wooded areas with palm trees, which they bore roosting holes into. They will also frequently occupy abandoned woodpecker holes.

Their feathers are dark brown with white spots on top, and their bellies and bottom wing feathers are grayish-white. They have large brown eyes outlined with dramatic white feathers. The Cuban screech owl is not well studied, and information about its diet is scarce, but, like most owl species, it likely feeds on small mammals, other birds, frogs, and insects.

The bare-legged owl became the Cuban screech owl in 1998, when the American Ornithologists’ Union reclassified it in the genus Otus, which includes scops and screech owls. However, in 2003, the union, citing differences in morphology and vocal patterns, reversed itself, placing the owl in its own genus, Gymnoglaux, and restoring its former name.

No reliable population numbers or trends are available on the Cuban screech owl, but it is reported to be common throughout its range. Human encroachment likely impacts some parts of its habitat, but it currently has no special conservation status.

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