Unknown Owl (Strix or Ciccaba sp.)* - 7 photos

 

1

July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.

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July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.

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July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.

4

July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.

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July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.

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July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.  Sue Wright.

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July 2002.  Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador.  Sue Wright.

* This owl is currently a mystery to all professional ornithologists in Ecuador, and elsewhere. Most agree that it looks intermediate between a Black-and-white Owl (Strix nigrolineata) and a Black-banded Owl (Strix huhula), and that it looks more like Black-banded. Note that the bird does not show the solid blackish crown and nape that you would expect in Black-and-white Owl, and that the barring on the underparts appears intermediate.

But, here's where the mystery gets more interesting! This bird occurs at Cabanas San Isidro, an eco-lodge at about 7500 feet elevation on the east slope of the Andes. Black-and-white Owl is known in South America only from the Pacific coastal lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador, occurring no higher in elevation than about 2000 feet. So, this mystery owl is a long distance from any Black-and-white Owls. Black-banded Owls do occur in the Oriente of Ecuador, but again it is a lowland species, occurring no higher in elevation than about 2000 feet. The mystery owls  respond to tapes of Rufous-banded Owl (Strix albitarsus), and drive off individuals of that species at every opportunity. The vocalization of the mystery owl is more like a Rufous-banded or Black-banded, and is nothing like the distinctive vocalization of Black-and-white Owl.

Mitch Lysinger, who is one of Ecuador's top bird guides, co-operates the lodge with his wife Carmen Bustamante, where these owls occur. They have not yet collected any feathers or specimens. The owl remains a mystery until it can be found, and collected, at some other site. Opinions have varied on what this mystery owl actually is. Some feel it could be a previously undocumented range and elevational extension for Black-banded Owl, but the barring on the underparts, wings, and tail, is actually somewhat intermediate between Black-banded and Black-and-white Owls. The issue of a hybrid between Black-and-white and Black-banded Owls needs to be considered, but it seems difficult to imagine that individuals from such widely separated geographic areas could ever get together to hybridize. Also, there is a breeding pair of these birds, which have raised two sets of young (probably more by now), and the appearance of all birds is consistent, so a hybrid seems quite unlikely. The possibility that this could be an undescribed subspecies of Black-banded Owl has been considered, and others feel this could be an undescribed new species.