Bearded Screech-owl Megascops barbarus


Justification of Red List category
Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km² combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
The global population is thought to number fewer than 50,000 mature individuals (Partners in Flight 2019) and the species is here placed in the band 20,000-49,999 mature individuals. In Chiapas (Mexico), the total mean number of the species detected per linear trail was 1.65±0.61 individuals/km in nine localities (P. Enríquez in litt. 2016).

Trend justification
The population trend for this species has not been directly estimated, but the species is suspected to be in decline owing to habitat degradation. The rate of forest loss varies locally and over time; in the highlands of Chiapas (Mexico) forest loss amounted to 2.6% annually between 1975 and 2000 (Cayuela et al. 2006). More recent data across the entire range, however, suggest that forest loss is moderately low, numbering c. 7% over the past ten years (Global Forest Watch 2020). The species is highly forest-dependent and the most severe threat known to the species is habitat loss. Given that the species is also locally prosecuted, the rate of population decline is potentially higher than forest loss. Overall, the rate of population decline is unlikely to exceed 20% over ten years.

Distribution and population

This species is endemic to the highlands of Chiapas, south-east Mexico, and the highlands of west Guatemala (Howell and Webb 1995, del Hoyo et al. 1999, Eisermann and Avendaño 2015).


This species is found in montane evergreen and humid pine-oak forest at elevations of 1,800-2,500 m (Howell and Webb 1995). In Guatemala it also occurs in ten year old pine plantations (K. Eisermann in litt. 2011). In Chiapas the species is most often found in moist oak, pine-oak and cloud forests, with fewer records from pine forests (Enríquez 2007). Its diet consists mainly of large insects, particularly beetles, which are captured in the understorey by a sit-and-wait strategy (Enríquez and Cheng 2008). Breeding likely takes place between March and June (Enríquez and Cheng 2008, Enríquez 2011). In Guatemala the breeding season runs from March to May (K. Eisermann in litt. 2016). The only known nest was found in June 2001 2.45 m above ground in a natural cavity of a large living oak Quercus laurina; inside was an adult red-morph female brooding a single grey-morph nestling estimated to be 3 weeks old (Enríquez and Cheng 2008). Birds moult in the rainy season, from July to October (Enríquez and Cheng 2008). In the highlands of Chiapas the species has an estimated home range of c.20 ha for females and c. 23 ha for males (Enríquez 2007).


Pine-oak forests and cloud forests are disappearing rapidly through logging for firewood and charcoal, agricultural expansion, urbanization and bark-beetle epidemics that are exacerbated by habitat degradation (Stattersfield et al. 1998, Ochoa-Gaona and González-Espinosa 2000). Civil war in Chiapas, Mexico, accelerated deforestation (P. J. Bubb in litt. 1997); montane forests in this area had been reduced to less than 25% of their original extent by the year 2000 (Cayuela et al. 2006). Slingshot hunting poses an additional threat, particularly near forest edges (Enríquez 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. The PROEVAL RAXMU Bird Monitoring Programme has been studying the species's breeding biology, demography and habitat use in the Guatemalan highlands since 2010 (K. Eisermann in litt. 2016). The species is included on the 'Watch List' of the State of North America's Birds as a species of high conservation concern (NABCI 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to assess the population size. Monitor population trends through regular surveys. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Investigate the breeding ecology, life history strategies and demography. Investigate how habitat degradation may be affecting survival (Enríquez and Cheng 2008). Protect suitable habitat. Provide nest boxes (P. Enríquez in litt. 2016).


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Ashpole, J, Benstead, P., Bubb, P.J., Capper, D., Eisermann, K., Enríquez, P., Sharpe, C.J. & Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Megascops barbarus. Downloaded from on 28/11/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/11/2023.