email a friend
printable version
Moheli Scops-owl Otus moheliensis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This scops-owl is classified as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small range, occurring on only one mountain ridge. There has been a continuing decline in the area and quality of habitat, from which it is suspected that there has been a continuing decline in its extent of occurrence, area of occupancy and the number of mature individuals. New information suggests that the species may be much more widespread than previously thought, further work is needed to confirm this.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Described as new to science by Lafontaine and Moulaert (1998).

20-22 cm. Small owl. Two colour forms. Rufous form is bright orangey-buff with unusually reduced barring and streaks. Brown morph is darker and heavily streaked and vermiculated. Voice Described as hissing whistles and screeches.

Distribution and population
This species is endemic to Mohéli in the Comoro Islands. The species is now thought to be widespread on Mohéli, occurring down to sea level wherever there are trees (R. Young verbally to R. Safford in litt. 2015). It is thought to be declining due to habitat destruction (R. Safford in litt. 1999).

Population justification
It is relatively abundant - its density has been estimated at one individual/5 ha of near-primary forest (c. 10 km2) and one individual per 10 ha of degraded forest, giving a total population in the order of 400 individuals (Lafontaine and Moulaert 1998, 1999), roughly equivalent to 260 mature individuals. However, given new information that suggests the species is more widespread than previously thought, further work is needed to assess the population size.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction.

The species was previously thought to be only found in dense, humid forest, which remains on the central mountain peak and its upper slopes (Lafontaine and Moulaert 1998). However the species was recently found to occur down to sea level wherever there are trees (R. Young verbally to R. Safford in litt. 2015). It is common in intact forest, but less so in forest under-planted for agriculture (Safford 2001). It has been sighted in degraded forest, however it is not known whether this habitat can support a breeding population (C. Marsh in litt. 2009).

By 1995, intact, dense, humid forest remained on only 5% of the island, owing primarily to conversion for subsistence agriculture (Lafontaine and Moulaert 1998, 1999), underplanting, clear-felling and cultivation, and abandonment of sparsely vegetated land, which is highly susceptible to erosion and landslides (Safford 2001). Invasive exotic plant species, such as jamrosa Syzygium jambos, Lantana camara and Clidemia hirta, are abundant in the forest and are degrading the native habitat (Safford 2001). Hunting probably affects this species (Safford 2001). Introduced species including rats are common, and may compete with O. moheliensis for food or predate its nests (Safford 2001). Having a distribution that is close to the maximum altitude within its range, this species is potentially susceptible to climate change (BirdLife International unpublished data).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. The highlands of the island are currently unprotected, but proposals have been made to protect them by extending the Réserve Marine de Nioumachoua (Safford 2001). The Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation planned to carry out a feasibility study to expand its forest management project from Anjouan to Mohéli (H. Doulton in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to assess the current population size. Research the ecology of this species, to aid conservation plans. Create a reserve in the interior of the island to protect suitable habitat (Safford 2001). Develop an environmental education programme to increase local awareness.

Benson, C. W. 1960. The birds of the Comoro Islands: results of the British Ornithologists' Union Centenary Expedition 1958. Ibis 103b: 5-106.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Lafontaine, R. M.; Moulaert, N. 1999. Une nouvelle espèce de petit-duc (Otus: Aves) aux Comores: taxonomie et statut de conservation. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 6(1): 61-65.

Lafontaine, R.-M.; Moulaert, N. 1998. Une nouvelle espece de petit-duc (Otus, Aves) aux Comores: taxonomie et statut de conservation. Journal of African Zoology 112: 164-169.

Safford, R. J. 2001. Comoros. In: Fishpool, L.D.C.; Evans, M.I. (ed.), Important Bird Areas in Africa and associated islands: Priority sites for conservation, pp. 185-190. Pisces Publications and BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No.11), Newbury and Cambridge, UK.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Mahood, S., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Warren, B. & Ashpole, J

Doulton, H., Marsh, C., Safford, R. & Young, R.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Otus moheliensis. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Moheli scops-owl (Otus moheliensis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Strigidae (Typical Owls)
Species name author Lafontaine & Moulaert, 1998
Population size 260 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 21 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species