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Species Guide
A photo of a Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)
Marsh Owl

Marsh Owl

Asio capensis

The Marsh Owl, Asio capensis, presents as a medium-sized owl with a rather pumpkin-shaped head, adorned with small, earth-brown ear tufts that may often be inconspicuous. The plumage is primarily dark brown, with a pale buff facial disc encircled by a distinct rim speckled with buff. Dark brown surrounds the similarly hued eyes, while the tail features pale buff barring and a whitish tip. The legs are cloaked in pale tawny-buff feathers, and the toes are partially covered, leaving only the dark brown tips and blackish claws exposed. Males tend to be paler than females, and there is some variation in tone among individuals. The species measures 31–38 cm in length, with a wing span of 284–380 mm, a tail length of 132–186 mm, and a weight range of 225–485 g.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the Marsh Owl, look for the small ear tufts positioned centrally on the forehead, which may not always be visible. The pale buff facial disc with a dark rim and the barred tail with a whitish tip are also key features. Males are generally paler than females, and the size can be a helpful indicator, with the species being medium to large among owls.


Marsh Owls favor open grasslands, marshlands, and areas with short scrub, often in proximity to marshy grounds, vleis, or dams. They are ground nesters and may vacate regions during droughts. Their preferred habitats are susceptible to destruction from agricultural practices and overgrazing.


This species has a fragmented range, commonly found in the grasslands of southern Africa, from the northern regions of South Africa to the Eastern Cape, the Mashonaland plateau in Zimbabwe, the Makgadikgadi depression in Botswana, the floodplains of the Namibian coast, and isolated populations in Morocco and Madagascar.


Marsh Owls are typically solitary or found in pairs. They exhibit nocturnal habits but may also be active during dawn and dusk. Their behavior includes monogamy and territoriality, with nesting in loose colonies and territories ranging from 0.8–2.5 square km, sometimes smaller in denser populations.

Song & calls

This section is not available as the provided content does not include information on the song and calls of the Marsh Owl.


Breeding occurs at the end of the wet season or the beginning of the dry season. The owls are monogamous and territorial, with nests being hollows in grass patches, covered by a canopy of pulled grass or shrubs and lined with dry foliage. The female lays 2–6 white eggs, incubated for 27–28 days, during which she is fed by the male. Chicks stay in the nest for about 18 days, fledge at 29–35 days, and are fully feathered by 70 days.

Similar Species

This section is not available as the provided content does not include information on species similar to the Marsh Owl.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Marsh Owl includes small rodents, insects, and other small vertebrates such as mice, voles, rats, shrews, young hares, bats, birds up to the size of small ducks and doves, frogs, lizards, scorpions, beetles, and grasshoppers.

Conservation status

The Marsh Owl is not currently listed as vulnerable or endangered, but its population is declining, primarily due to habitat loss from urbanization. Breeding coincides with winter months when veld fires are common, which can be detrimental to their nesting and population if not managed responsibly.

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Marsh Owls on Birda


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