Genus Scops. Speotyto cunicularia. Carine noctua. Little Owl.
Commonly placed near Asio, but whether really akin to it cannot be stated, is the genus Scops, of which nearly forty species, coming from different parts of the world, have been described; but this number should probably be reduced by one half. The type of the genus, S. giu, the Petit Duc of the French, is a well-known bird in the south of Europe, about as big as a Thrush, with very delicately pencilled plumage, occasionally visiting Britain, emigrating in autumn across the Mediterranean, and ranging very far to the eastward.
Further southward, both in Asia and Africa, it is represented by other species of very similar size, and in the eastern part of the North America by S. asio, of which there is a tolerably distinct western form, S. kennicotti, besides several local races. S. asio is one of the Owls that especially exhibits the dimorphism of coloration above mentioned, and it was long before the true state of the case was understood. At first the two forms were thought to be distinct, and then for some time the belief obtained that the ruddy birds were the young of the grayer forms which was called S. naevia; but now the "Red Owl" and the "Mottled Owl" of the older American ornithologists are known to be one species.(Footnote 91-1)
One of the remarkable of American Owl is Speotyto cunicularia, the bird that in the northern part of the continent inhabits the burrows of the prairie dog, and in the southern those of the bischaca, where the latter occursmaking holes for itself, says Darwin, where that is not the case, -- rattlesnakes being often also joint tenants of the same abodes. The odd association of these animals, interesting as it is, cannot be here more than noticed, for a few words must be said, ere we leave the Owls of this section, on the species which has associations of a very different kind -- the bird of Pallas Athene, the emblem of the city to which science and art were so welcome. There can be no doubt, from the many representations on coins and sculptures, as to their subject being the Carine noctua of modern ornithologists, but those who know the grotesque actions and ludicrous expression of this veritable buffoon of birds can never cease to wonder at its having been seriously selected as the symbol of learning, and can hardly divest themselves of a suspicion that the choice must have been made in the spirit of sarcasm.
This Little Owl (for that is its only namethough it is not even the smallest that appears in England), the Chevêche of the French, is spread throughout the greater part of Europe, but it is not a native of Britain. It has a congener in C. brama, a bird well known to all residents in India.
(91-1) See the remarks of Mr Ridgway in the work before quoted (B. N. America, iii. pp. 9, 10), where also response is made to the observations of Mr Allen in the Harvard Bulletin (ii. pp. 388, 339).
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