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A photo of a Australian Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae)
Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

Tyto novaehollandiae

The Australian masked owl, Tyto novaehollandiae, is a member of the barn owl family, Tytonidae. It is a striking bird with a distinctive white, heart-shaped facial disc framed by brown feathers. The dorsal plumage is a rich brown, peppered with light gray spots on the upper back, while the front is predominantly white with brown speckles. The eyes of this species range from black to dark brown, adding to their enigmatic appearance.

Identification Tips

Sexual dimorphism is evident in the Australian masked owl, with females generally exhibiting darker shades and larger sizes than their male counterparts. Males typically weigh between 420 to 800 grams and measure 330 to 410 millimeters in length, while females can weigh from 545 to 1,260 grams and span 390 to 500 millimeters in length. The wingspan of southern female masked owls can reach up to 1,280 millimeters. Notably, the Tasmanian subspecies is the largest within the barn-owl family, surpassing even the greater sooty owl in size and weight.

Habitat

This owl prefers timbered landscapes with shrubby undergrowth and is rarely found more than 300 kilometers inland in Australia. They favor large tree hollows for roosting and nesting, situated near areas rich in prey.

Distribution

The Australian masked owl is native to Southern New Guinea and the non-desert regions of Australia. It has a presence in Tasmania and has been introduced to Lord Howe Island.

Behaviour

Nocturnal by nature, the Australian masked owl hunts for a variety of prey, including rodents, small marsupials, rabbits, bats, birds, reptiles, and insects. While they primarily hunt on the ground, they are also capable of capturing prey in trees or mid-flight. They are territorial and tend to remain in the same area once a breeding territory is established.

Breeding

Breeding can occur at any time of the year, provided conditions are favorable. Nests are typically located in hollow trees filled with soil, mulch, or sand, though some populations utilize caves or rock crevices. The female lays two to three eggs, which she incubates while the male forages for food. The chicks are white or off-white upon feathering and leave the nest at two to three months of age, though they continue to receive parental care for an additional month.

Similar Species

The Australian masked owl can be distinguished from other owls by its large size, particularly in the case of the Tasmanian subspecies, and its unique heart-shaped facial disc.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Australian masked owl is diverse, including terrestrial prey such as rodents and small marsupials, as well as birds, bats, and insects. They are adept hunters both on the ground and in the air.

Conservation status

The Australian masked owl is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, the mainland population is in decline, and several Australian states have recognized the species as threatened or vulnerable. Conservation efforts are underway, including an Action Statement prepared under Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

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Australian Masked Owls on Birda

Sightings
A map showing the sighting location
🦒
Kayley Fouche
27 Jun 2024 - 4:10pm
Australia

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