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Boobook Owls – Cute Little Owls Cause Some Commotion

Wildlife Photography with marysejansenart

Australian Boobook Owl formerly known as Southern Boobook Owl

Two Boobook Owls by Maryse Jansen
Two Boobook Owls

It’s a hot summer day and apart from the cicadas, which make a lot of noise, the forest is quiet. Most of the birds are at rest, but suddenly I hear a lot of activity coming from an area of dense vegetation. These birds sound agitated, I wonder what is causing the commotion. Peering through the branches I quickly find the answer: two small owls are perched there! They are Australian Boobook Owls. The other birds might be nesting nearby and therefore certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with the presence of these two birds of prey. I am excited though, as I have not seen them before!

Southern Boobook Owl renamed as Australian Boobook Owl

The owls are dark brown on top and rufous brown below, heavily streaked and spotted with white. Their feet and bill are grey. They have a dark brown facial disc, which makes it look like they are wearing glasses. It’s lined with a prominent white eyebrow and chin. Juveniles are mostly white below and their very dark brown facial disc really stands out.

There is some variation in looks between the birds in different areas of Australia, which also has caused some commotion amongst scientists. Are they all the same species or not?? Southern owls are slightly larger then northern owls and there is a lot of variation in colouring. While they all were thought to be the same, in 2022 four subspecies have been officially recognised. The species I am looking at here was until 2019 known as the Southern Boobook Owl, but has been renamed as the Australian Boobook Owl. It is also by some people known as Mopoke.

Nocturnal creatures

Australian Boobook Owls are one of the eleven owl species that can be found in Australia. These are split into two groups: Barn Owls and Hawk Owls. The Boobook Owl belongs to the Hawk Owls. All Hawk Owls have a hawk-like face and large yellow eyes. The Australian Boobook is one of the smallest owls in Australia and it is definitely the most common one. You can find them throughout mainland Australia, as well as Tasmania and some coastal islands. They are not too picky about their habitat, so they may be seen in anywhere from dense forest to open desert areas, and in rural as well as urban places.

Being a nocturnal creature, they spend their days roosting in a tree. They prefer the cover of a leafy branch close to the trunk, which is just where I found them today! One is right awake, staring at me with its big yellow eyes and then it suddenly winks with one eye! I am thrilled to have captured that moment on video! The other one is a bit more groggy, peers through its slits for a while and then goes to sleep again – despite the racket of the birds around it. I think these little owls are terribly cute!

Boobook Owl Portrait by Maryse Jansen
Boobook Owl

Click here to learn more about another nocturnal bird that looks like an owl, but is not actually an owl!

Hunting at night

At night, the Boobooks come out to hunt. Occasionally, they are also active around dusk and dawn. You might them see them on a high perch, like a tree top or a pole. But it is more likely that you will hear them then that you will see them. Their name is derived from their call, which is a two-note ‘boo-book’ with the first note higher in pitch than the second. This hooting may continue for several hours, mostly just after dusk or before dawn. I do regularly hear it, when I happen to wake up during the night.

From their perch, they scan their surroundings for the sights and sounds of prey. They eat small animals, including insects and small mammals. They are able to catch flying prey in mid-air. When they spot prey on ground-level, they pounce upon it.

Breeding Behaviour

When it’s breeding season, which peaks in spring, the Australian Boobook Owl finds a tree hollow to nest in. Generally they prefer Eucalyptus trees. The male may line it with wood shavings, leaves and small twigs or leave it bare. The female lays a clutch of 2-3 eggs and incubates them. During this time, the male will feed her.

It takes about a month before the chicks hatch. Father keeps delivering food, while the mother watches over her chicks and tears the food apart before she feeds it to them. Five to six weeks later, the chicks are ready to leave the nest. They will stick around for another couple of months before they move away to establish their own territory.

Join me on my walk, where I discover these two little owls in a tree, in the latest episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’:

If you are interested in purchasing a print of ‘Two Boobook Owls’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various merchandise products, please head to my shop. If you’d prefer ‘Australian Boobook Owl’, click shop here.

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