Photo by Uwe Speck
The Mottled Owl is a medium-sized owl of tropical America. It is dark overall, with a dark mottled brown and buff head, back and wings. It has a buffy belly and breast with heavy streaking, and vertical bars on the chest and throat. It has dark brown eyes surrounded by a light gray-brown facial disk with buffy streaking and incomplete buffy border. A pale morph also occurs in parts of its range, usually in drier habitats. It lacks ear tufts, therefore has a large, round-headed appearance. It has bare, buff-colored feet and a yellowish bill. Males and females are similar in appearance but show a high degree of sexual dimorphism when it comes to size—females (35 cm in length) are larger than males (28 cm in length).
The Mottled Owl can be found in a variety of habitats, but typically prefer forest and woodlands, where they occupy the lower and middle levels of the forest. They are strictly nocturnal, but can be found roosting during the day, usually concealed in dense vine tangles and thick undergrowth—listening for smaller birds mobbing and scolding can often lead to a roosting Mottled Owl! Like all owls, they are predators—they catch and kill small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and even large insects to eat. They forage by waiting on a perch then swooping down to catch prey. Due to their nocturnal behavior, Mottled Owls have excellent eyesight designed for low-light conditions and very acute hearing. They make a variety of calls, from a series of muffled hoots to cat-like screeches. Mottled Owls usually nest in a tree cavity, but will occasionally take over suitable nests of other birds. The female lays 1-2 white eggs, and incubates them for 28-30 days. While incubation is solely done by the female, the young are cared for by both parents.
The Mottled Owl is common throughout most of Central and South America. In Panama, it can be found in lowlands to 2100 meters elevation—it can be found throughout the entire country except in the highest elevations, and is known up to 2500 meters in other parts of its range. They are rather common in some parts of their range and can be found close to human activity.