Rufous Owl - Ninox rufa
Calls - Ninox rufa
[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: A large, rufous-coloured Owl of tropical rainforest.
The forehead, crown, nape, back and upper wings are dark rufous, finely barred light
brown. The upper tail is similar but with broader bars. The facial disc is indistinct and blackish brown. The throat, breast, and belly are rich rufous, finely and
closely barred cream, the bars becoming broader and fewer from the throat backwards. Under
the wings and tail is light brown, broadly barred cream. Rufous Owls have a long tail and
feathered legs with pale yellow or creamy toes and black talons. Iris is yellow and the
bill is pale horn with short black bristles at the base. The male always larger than the
female and tends to have a broader, flatter head. Newly fledged young are much smaller than
the parents and still part downy. Young adults tend to be more broadly barred than older
birds with dark sepia rather than rufous colouring.
Size: Length 46-57cm (18-22.5"). Wingspan 100-120cm (39.5-47").
Weight females 700-1050g (24.75-37oz), males 1050-1300g (37-46oz).
Habits: A shy and elusive bird. Generally nocturnal. Will defend the nest very aggressively.
Voice: Rufous Owls are the least vocal Australian Ninox 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: Like most Ninox, 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 defence 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 (98
feet), but occasionally low at down to less than 3metres (10 feet). 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
(2") by 44-48mm (1.9"). 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
adjoining woodland. Roosts by day in leafy trees.
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 P. Lewis. Page last updated 2012-08-13
OwlPages.com Owl Species ID: 240.010.000