Newly Described Owl Species Looks Like a Meme and Sounds Like a Squeaky Toy

Click play to hear the Príncipe scops owl’s adorable call.
Photo: c/o Philippe Verbelen
Sound: c/o Martim Melo

Bird alert: Scientists formally described a previously obscure species of owl this week. And, good news, it’s a flying meme-generator that sounds like a newborn puppy. Sadly, this special owl is already likely critically endangered.

The small, brown, nocturnal bird—named the Príncipe scops owl or Otus bikegila—dwells on the island of Príncipe off of Africa’s western coast, in the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. Testimony about the owl from locals on the island dates back to 1928, and scientists initially proposed that it might be a distinct species in 2016. But now, for the first time, there is definitive proof.

Researchers published a study documenting their findings on Otus bikegila in the journal ZooKeys. Through a combination of specimen collection, call analysis, and DNA sequencing, they established that the petite owl is unique to its island home. It shares a most recent common ancestor with both the neighboring São Tomé scops owl and the African scops owl, which is widespread on the continent’s mainland. But through millennia of isolation, Otus bikegila transformed.

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