The Owl Pages

Southern White-faced Owl ~ Ptilopsis granti


The Southern White-faced Owl is a small owl with a distinctive white face, large orange-red eyes, long ear-tufts and dark-streaked pale greyish plumage.

Photo Gallery (3 pictures)

  • Southern White-faced Owl
  • Southern White-faced Owl
  • Southern White-faced Owl

Sound Gallery

Typical call - Hoedspruit, South Africa. March 2009. CC Derek Solomon.


Description: The facial disc is almost pure white, with a broad black rim. Eyes are orange-red to red, and the bill is pale creamy-horn.
Upperparts are relatively dark grey. The feathers of the crown, ear-tufts, nape and mantle have well-pronounced black shaft-streaks and many fine vermiculations. The outer webs of the scapulars are white, edged in black, and forming a white line across the shoulder. Upperwing coverts have black streaks and fine mottling. Flight and tail feathers are barred light and dark.
Underparts are a paler grey with fine blackish shaft-streaks and fine dark vermiculations. Tarsi are feathered pale grey to the basal half of the toes. The toes are dusky greyish-brown and have blackish-horn claws.

Size: Length 22-24cm. Wing length 191-206mm. Tail length 88-100mm. Weight 185-275g. Females are heavier than males.

Habits: The Southern White-faced Owl is a nocturnal bird. Habits otherwise not well studied - may be similar to the Northern White-faced Owl.

Voice: The typical call begins with a rapid, stuttering staccato trill, followed by a clear, drawn out note - whhhhhhhu-hooh - with the hooh often slightly rising in pitch. This phrase is repeated at intervals of several seconds. Further studies are required to determine differences and similarities with the Northern White-faced Owl which was previously considered to be the same species.

Hunting & Food: Southern White-faced Owls feed on large insects, spiders, scorpions, small birds, reptiles and small mammals. This owl hunts from a perch, dropping down and gliding low over the ground before swooping up to a new perch. Prey are normally taken from the ground or from branches, held with the powerful talons and torn apart with the bill.

Breeding: At the start of the breeding season, the male sings intensively, especially at dusk, but may be heard throughout the night. During courtship, the male and female duet. Later, the female will answer her mate with a faint shriek.
Nests are in natural holes in tree trunks or thick branches, but nest platforms of larger birds may also be used. Eggs are normally laid between May and November, locally with a dry season peak in July and August. The clutch is generally 2-3 white eggs, measuring 38.1-42.4 x 31.5-34.5mm. The 30 day incubation period starts with the first egg, and is done by the female alone while the male provides the food. The young fledge at four weeks of age and are flying well in a few days. They are cared for by both parents for a further two weeks at least.

Habitat: Savanna with scattered groups of trees and thorny shrubs, dry open woods, wooded areas along rivers, forest edges and clearings. These owls avoid dense rainforest and treeless deserts.

Distribution: Africa from southern Uganda and southern Kenya south to the Congo, Angola, Namibia and to the northern Cape Province and Natal.

Range of Southern White-faced Owl (Ptilopsis granti)
Range of the Southern White-faced Owl Ptilopsis granti

Status: Locally common.

Original Description: Kollibay, Raul R. 1910. Ornithlogishce Monatsbeirchte Heraussegeben von Dr. Ant. Reichenow (Orn. Monatsb.) 18: p. 148.

Boyer and Hume. 1991. "Owls of the World". BookSales Inc.
del Hoyo, Elliott & Sargatal. 1999. "Handbook of the Birds of the World: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds". Buteo Books.
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press.

See also: Other owls from Africa, Genus: Ptilopsis.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2016-04-23.