One of the greatest aspects of life on planet Earth is the diversity that this one planet holds. The diversity of life on planet Earth doesn’t simply refer to one characteristic, but many. Consider, for instance, the vast diversity of geological formations on the planet. There are massive deserts, enormous mountain ranges, sweeping plains, and lush, tropical rainforests. There is diversity in terms of human life, with numerous cultures living varying lifestyles in every corner of the globe

Perhaps the greatest gift planet Earth can offer is in the diversity of animal life it holds. While the world is full of animals that are extremely common and present in great numbers, such as the cows, pigs, chickens, and other livestock that provide sustenance, there are other animals that are so rare they exist in only a few select habitats on the planet.

The island nation of Seychelles is famously home to one of Earth’s well known rare creatures, the giant sea tortoise, but few know of its rarest resident. The Seychelles Scops Owl, more commonly referred to as the Bare-legged Scops Owl, is one of the rarest birds on the world and calls just one place on the entire planet home.

Meet the Bare-legged Scops Owl

One glance at the bare-legged scops owl and few people would wonder what makes this species so interesting and worthy of such attention. At just 19 to 22 cm in height on average, with a wingspan of 17 cm, the bare-legged scops owl is neither the smallest rare bird species in the world nor the largest. Even its plumage is nothing to write home about. The average bare-legged scops owl has a predominantly rufous brown coloring with shaft streaks of black mixed in.

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of this particular species of scops owl is the vocalizations it will make. The call of the bare-legged scops is raspy with numerous “tok tok” vocalizations thrown in. Interestingly, the call of the bare-legged scops can reportedly be heard over amazing distances, particularly during evening hours. Additionally, bare-legged scops have been reported to whistle during mating season.

Habitat

The bare-legged scops owl inhabits the densely packed forests of the mountainous island of Mahe in the Seychelles chain. Although it is rumored to have once lived at lower elevations, and is still reported near sea-level from time to time, the species is predominantly found among the upper slopes and valleys of Mahe’s mountainous regions above 200 meters in elevation.

What makes the bare-legged scops owl rare, and in fact endangered, is its habitat. The species is only found on the island of Mahe, and it is believed that there are 159 suitable territories for the bare-legged scops spread out over an area of just 33 square kilometers.

Status

The bare-legged scops owl was discovered in 1880 as a separate family within the scops owl species. At that point in time the species’ habitat extended outside of Mahe to include the islands of Praslin and Silhouette in the Seychelles chain. However, human activity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries changed all of that.

By 1906 the bare-legged scops was believed to be extinct because of the massive deforestation of mountainous forests on the islands Praslin and Silhouette, as well as the introduction of alien species that either preyed on the bare-legged scops or competed for resources. This proved to be a rush to judgment though as French naturalist Phillippe Loustau-Lalanne in a cloud forest above 200 meters on the island of Mahe in 1959.

During the ensuing decades the bare-legged scops was listed as critically endangered because it was so difficult to track and identify the species, it was believed that the population was small and unstable. Research conducted during the first decade of the 21st century found that the population was healthier than previously believed (roughly 330 individuals compared to previous estimates around 180) and that successful breeding was occurring.

Despite this good news, the bare-legged scops owl remains a rare species to planet Earth and is still considered endangered, though no longer critically endangered. While successful breeding is occurring, a female bare-legged scops owl will only lay one egg at a time. This is uncommon among the wider scops owl family, where two eggs are the norm, but is in line with several land-bird species that inhabit the islands of the Seychelles. For the time being, the population of the bare-legged scops is considered stable, though not necessarily growing.

Conservation and Protection Efforts

Several governmental and international organizations are fighting to ensure that the world does not lose the bare-legged scops as it has other bird species from this region, most notably the Dodo bird. The single greatest threat to the bare-legged scops is the loss of its already small habitat. Deforestation to exploit timber resources and clearing of forests for housing developments pose the greatest threat to the species.

As a result, the government of the Seychelles has moved to add the habitats of the bare-legged scops under the protection of the Morne Seychellois National Park with extended park borders and protected areas. Currently, 80% of the species’ habitat is protected by park boundaries where deforestation and development are prohibited.

Additionally, the bare-legged scops species is protected under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) and the Wild Animals and Bird Protection Act in the Seychelles. These acts serve to protect the bare-legged scops from killings, capturing, and illegal trade so that it can be preserved for future generations.