Hawk Owls of Southwest WA

Australia’s owls fall into two groups, barn or masked owls which have a distinctive heart-shaped facial disc and are predominately white underneath and hawk owls, which have a smaller spectacle-shaped face and have an overall brown appearance.

There are two species of hawk owls in the Southern Coastal region, the commonly heard Southern Boobook with its familiar repeated boo-book call and the rare Barking Owl, with its dog-like woof-woof call. There have been only thirteen sightings (or hearings) of the Barking Owl reported to Birdlife since the year 2000 and none in the last five years. Recent studies have indicated that the Barking Owl has never been a common bird in southwest Australia with only 41 verified sightings of the owl since 1848. The Barking Owl is also famous for its scream, which sounds like a woman crying-out for help, this is thought to be uttered when the nest site is threatened, but can be confused with the calls of foxes. The Barking Owl has similar markings to the Boobook, but is about double its size. The male and female Boobook are similar in colour and size, whereas the male Barking Owl is slightly larger than the female, which is unusual for birds of prey, colouration is similar.

They are both crepuscular in nature; that is they hunt in the twilight hours at dawn and dusk, although the boobook can be often seen late at night, hunting moths attracted to street lights. Boobooks are frequently found near human habitation, attracted by the presence of rats and mice as well as the moths around street lights, their natural habitat is well-wooded country. Barking Owls prefer woodland with denser vegetation.

Little is known about the Barking Owl’s diet in the southwest, it is assumed that it preys upon mammals, probably rats and mice or even rabbits near to human habitation and small to medium-sized marsupials and birds elsewhere. Owls eat their prey whole and after it is ingested a pellet containing the indigestible bones and fur or feathers is disgorged, this is often at a favourite site, finding such a site can give a great insight into what the owl is eating.

Both species nest in tree hollows, Boobooks usually laying 2-eggs, Barking Owls are thought to lay a similar number.

So keep an eye or more likely an ear out for these beautiful night birds, but make sure it isn’t next door’s dog making all the noise before reporting it to Birdlife!

Barking Owl - Composite image, captive bird
Barking Owl - Composite image, captive bird
Southern Boobook Owl showing "spectacles"
Southern Boobook Owl showing "spectacles"
Southern Boobook Owl, Mount Hallowell