Greater Sooty Owl - Tyto tenebricosa
Calls - Tyto tenebricosa
A medium large, sooty black Owl with very large, dark eyes
set in a round facial disc. Known also as Black Owls or Dusky Barn Owls,
these birds are rarely seen or heard.
[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 Facial disc is large, round and
sooty black through to dark grey or silver and is heavily edged black. eyes very large with a black iris. The Bill is horn coloured and
feathered almost to the tip.
The upperparts are sooty black, finely spotted white on the
head with larger but sparser white spots on the wings. The underparts vary
from sooty black to dark grey, (never as dark as the upperparts) finely spotted with
white. The Belly is always paler than the breast. The tail is very short. The legs
are feathered and toes are dark grey with large black talons.
Size: Length male 37-43cm, female 44-51cm. Wing length male 243-300mm, female 253-353mm.
Tail length 115-145mm. Weight male 500-700g, female 750-1160g.
Nocturnal. Hides during the daytime in crevices, hollow tree trunks, dense
foliage of tall trees, and sometimes caves.
Voice: The characteristic call is a piercing downscale shriek, lasting
for upwards of two seconds. It has been likened to the sound of a falling bomb without the
final explosion and the call is now widely known as the 'bomb whistle'. There are also
various other calls associated with breeding and nesting.
Hunting & Food: The Sooty Owl is a powerful hunter and takes some
remarkably big prey, a high proportion being arboreal. This contrasts not only with the
lesser Sooty but with all other Tyto Owls, which take most of their prey on the ground.
The huge eyes of both sooty Owls compared with other Tyto Owls suggests a greater reliance
on vision. Sugar Gliders and Ringtail Possums make up a high proportion of the prey but a
wide variety of other mammals have been recorded. There are no records of hunting methods.
The male does all the hunting during breeding and usually brings one large prey item per
Breeding: The season is variable, with most eggs laid from January
through to June but there are some records of laying in spring (August-September). Males
often become more noisy at the start of the season, giving frequent 'bomb whistles'. The
male feeds the female in the hollow, engaging her with soft, high-pitched trilling before
passing over the prey. The nest is usually in a large hollow in a living tree at any
height from 10 to 50 metres (33-164 feet). There are a few records of nesting in caves.
Females occupy the hollow for many weeks before laying, flying out only briefly during
night. A female in a cave nest site rarely leaves at all. 1 or 2 dull white eggs are laid,
measuring 44-52mm (1.7-2") by 36-41mm (1.4-1.6"). Incubation is around 42 days.
The young are covered in sooty grey down and are fledged in about 3 months. The newly
fledged Sooty Owl is dependent on its parents for up to a month.
Habitat: Deep moist gullies in eucalypt forest, usually with big, old,
smooth-barked gums and an understorey of tree ferns and Lilly Pilly. They may move into
drier forest to hunt but they need the primary habitat for roosting and breeding. They are
Territorial and sedentary throughout the year.
Distribution: Coastal and mountain regions of south-eastern Australia
from the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne to the Conendale Range north of Brisbane.
Reportedly present on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait. They are also found in the
Montane rainforests of New Guinea.
Distribution of the Greater Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa
Status: Unknown, probably rare and endangered.
Original Description: Gould, John. 1845. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, pt. 13, no. 149, p. 80.
T. t. tenebricosa,
T. t. arfaki
Page compiled by Deane P. Lewis. Page last updated 2013-02-20
OwlPages.com Owl Species ID: 010.010.000