Rufous Owl - Ninox rufa
Calls - Ninox rufa
Introduction: The Rufous Owl is a large, rufous-coloured owl with no ear-tufts.
[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]
Description: The forehead, crown, nape, mantle and back are dark rufous, densely marked with pale narrow bars. There is a large blackish-brown zone with a slight rufous tint around the eyes, which are bright yellow. The cere is pale bluish-grey and the bill pale bluish-horn.
The wing-coverts and scapulars are mottled dark rufous and ochre-buff to pale brown, with the feathers narrowly edged pale brownish-buff. The primaries and secondaries are dark rufous-brown, barred pale brown. The slightly wedge-shaped tail is dark rufous-brown, and barred pale brown.
Underparts from the throat to the belly are densely barred rich rufous or cinnamon and buffish-cream.
Tarsi are feathered rufous to the base of the toes, which are dirty yellowish in colour. Claws are dark horn with blackish tips.
Size: Length 40-57cm. Wing length 260-383mm. Tail length 180-228mm. Weight 700-1300g. Males are larger and heavier than females, which is unusual for owls.
Habits: A shy and elusive bird. Generally nocturnal, roosts during the day, singly on in pairs, in thickly foliaged mature trees with a good view of the surroundings. Will defend the nest very aggressively.
Voice: Rufous Owls are not very vocal, and
call very little outside the breeding season. Pairs at roost may converse very softly. The
commonest call is a deep, double hoot, similar in pitch and
tempo to the Powerful Owl but more nasal, less ringing and with far less carrying power. A
second note may be at same or a slightly higher pitch than the first. Female's calls are
always slightly higher. Occasionally a single hoot may be used. The female has sheep-like
bleating call similar to the Powerful Owl used when the male returns to the nest with
Hunting & Food: The Rufous Owl is an extremely versatile
and powerful hunter taking a variety of prey from beetles to large birds and flying foxes.
Prey recorded include Brush-turkey, Scrubfowl, Papuan Frogmouth, Blue-winged Kookaburra,
White Cockatoo, flying fox, Sugar Glider, beetles, phasmids, several species of heron,
ducks, parrots and, remarkably, crayfish. Prey have been seen to be taken from perches
(Scrubfowl), by snatching from foliage in flight (phasmids), in aerial chases (flying fox)
and by hawking like a giant flycatcher (beetles). The crayfish were presumably taken when
stranded by falling floodwater.
Breeding: The Rufous Owl has a regular
breeding season with egg laying varying from June in the Northern Territory to September
in north-east Queensland. Individual females appear to lay at very much the same date each
year. The presence of the previous seasons young may sometimes inhibit nesting for that
season. As nesting approaches, both birds roost close together, often on the same branch.
After dark, the male calls with a double hoot and the female may fly to him with excited
bleating trills. Pairs perch side by side and the male preens the nape of the female's
neck while she picks at his toes with her bill. Both sexes may be fiercely aggressive to
humans in defense of the nest, which is a large hollow in the trunk or a main limb of a
big tree, usually living but sometimes dead. Most nests are high, at about 30 metres, but occasionally low at down to less than 3 metres. The male cleans out
the hollow and female only enters immediately before laying 2 (or occasionally 1) eggs.
There are 3 days in between laying the dull white, almost spherical eggs. They are 49-54mm
x 44-48mm. Incubation is 37 days and the Young have a first and
second whitish down. Fledging is about 50 days while still partly downy. The young remain
dependent on adults for several months and this period may extend into the next breeding
Habitat: Rainforests, monsoon forest; wet, forested gullies, and
Distribution: Arnhem Land and northern Kimberleys, eastern Cape
York Peninsula, and the Mackay district of eastern Queensland. Rufous Owls are also found
in New Guinea and the Aru Islands.
Distribution of the Rufous Owl Ninox rufa
Status: Rare to very uncommon. Probably endangered.
Original Description: Gould, John. 1846. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (PZS): Pt.14, no. 156, p 18.
N. r. rufa,
N. r. aruensis,
N. r. humeralis,
N. r. meesi,
N. r. queenslandica,
N. r. marginata
Page compiled by Deane Lewis. Page last updated 2013-08-28
OwlPages.com Owl Species ID: 240.010.000