All around the Collared Scops Owl is the jet-black night. The nocturnal animal perfectly hides itself in groves of trees, albeit these owls are common in Hong Kong. Despite its innocuous appearance, Collared Scops Owl is among a family that are widely depicted as a wise old man in fairy tales. What’s more, Collared Scops Owls are elite night predators, dominating the hours of darkness with their lethal hunting gear.
Widely occurring in East to South-east Asia, the Collared Scops Owl (Otus lettia) has a black-spotted body with a taupe wash. On average, Collared Scops Owl has a medium to small body size, weighs around 150-220g and grows to approximately 23-25cm tall. A pair of head tufts add to the striking appearance with its crimson glare. The pair of bright ruby eyes abound with rod cells that give Collared Scops Owl incredible night vision so it can hunt in the dark.
Among the awe-inspiring abilities of owls, the head turning ability, which allows an owl to turn its head up to 270 degrees, is definitely remarkable. There are adaptations to allow such an extraordinary move: the 14 vertebrae and the unique arrangement of the carotid artery. The carotid artery is in the cervical centre of owls, ensuring that blood circulation of the neck is not impeded by swivelling their heads.
Twisting its head in this way, the “surveillance radar” helps expand the owl’s vision, allowing it to detect prey, as well as potential danger, with ease. Like other owls, Collared Scops Owl preys on a panoply of targets, for instance, insects, muroids, amphibians, and smaller birds.
Another feature of owls is the remarkably large and forward-facing eyes, giving them more exceptional "binocular" vision than other birds, which have eyes on the sides instead. The super vision grants the owls better navigation and orientation abilities, heightening their accuracy in hunting.
The highly developed auditory system takes the hunting skills of owls to the next level. They can easily locate the sources of sound; no movement in the vicinity could escape their monitoring. Together with their killer claws, escaping from an owl’s pursuit is nigh on impossible. It is hard to imagine how much ferocity hides behind their innocent appearance.
Living With Threats
In densely urbanised and populated Hong Kong, the city’s natural habitats for Collared Scops Owls are shrinking. During breeding seasons, adult Collared Scops Owls often fly into the concrete jungle. Photographers may throng the places they favour, disturbing the birds and their young with shutters clicking plus flashlights shining. Young Collared Scops Owls are even more rarely-sighted, as they spend longer blending themselves in the woods. No wonder people surge in every time the birds pay a visit to the town. Regrettably, too few people appreciate that the nuisance actually ruins the habitat of the owls, not to mention the bright flashlight could blind the birds.
In Hong Kong, it is illegal to keep owls, including Collared Scops Owl, as pets. They are protected species under both the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586). Yet, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden hit a record high of receiving 53 owls from law enforcement agencies in 2017. Most were Collared Scops Owls and Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides). The terrifying number rang an alarm bell - illegal keeping should be discouraged by all means.