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Oaxaca Screech-Owl - Megascops lambi
Oaxaca Screech-Owl is a newly defined species of screech-owl. Its range along the coast of Oaxaca Mexico is very limited and its habitat is vulnerable to development. This is a classic example of a unique species of owl that could be driven to extinction through ignorance. Very little is known about this owl other than it exists along the pacific coast from about mid Oaxaca to near the Chiapas border.
This owl was once considered a race of the Pacific Screech-Owl although having a different vocalization guarantees this is indeed a unique species. Nocturnal species, as this owl is, breed and find each other by call. A unique vocalization is essential to the development and evolution of owl species. As a small owl, you wouldn’t last very long if you flew in to court a larger owl species that had the same call. See our “A New Species of Owl in Central America” article for more info on defining owl species.
Oaxaca Screech-Owl is very similar in size and appearance with Pacific Screech-Owl. The most obvious distinction visually between these two species being the white on their undersides. Oaxaca Screech-Owl is lighter underneath and has white running up the center of its belly and chest. Pacific Screech-Owl is much more uniformly streaked and cross barred below. Oaxaca Screech-Owl also has smaller ear tufts. Its underside streaks are thin and dark brown with lighter brown cross hatching. All other characteristics vary enough that firm identification should always be made by call.
One of the most noticeable behavioral traits that leaps out is how timid this species is. In areas where the owl is prevalent it is very noticeable because of its vocalizations. It is a reasonably vocal species but actually drawing one of these owls out to see it is very difficult. This is certainly a species that will be much more regularly heard than seen. In behavior, this species is similar to that of the Guatemalan Screech-Owl.
Conservation is a critical issue with a species like the Oaxaca Screech-Owl. This species has been caught up in the slow process of the scientific ornithological wheel. While science is limited to available budgets and researchers themselves being excruciatingly cautious of fine details, species like this owl can be lost. The first step of protection is actually defining the species as unique. Oaxaca Screech-Owl lives in prime coastal habitat that is valuable and under developmental pressure. A small, undefined, secretive, nocturnal, owl species with a very limited range on valuable property is going to face tough obstacles in Mexico.