The Owl Pages

Spotted Eagle Owl ~ Bubo africanus


The Spotted Eagle Owl is a medium-sized owl with conspicuous ear-tufts and yellow eyes. It is also known as the African Eagle Owl.

Photo Gallery (3 pictures)

  • Spotted Eagle Owl
  • Spotted Eagle Owl
  • Spotted Eagle Owl

Sound Gallery

Typical duet - Grahamstown, South Africa. July 2015. CC Lynette Rudman.


Description: Males are generally paler than females. The facial disc is whitish to pale ochre with fine dark barring and a blackish rim. Eyes are normally bright yellow, but rarely orange-yellow. The eyelids have blackish edges. The cere is grey, the bill black and the chin is white. This bird has prominent ear-tufts.
Upperparts are dusky brown with whitish or pale buff spots. The outer webs of the scapulars have larger white areas, but not forming a conspicuous row across the shoulder like many other owl species. The flight and tail feathers are barred light and dark. Underparts are whitish with fine dark bars. The upper breast has several dark greyish-brown blotches and the belly is nearly plain white, suffused with bale buff. Tarsi are feathered dirty whitish with some faint brown bars. The toes are feathered almost to the tips and are coloured dark horn. Claws are dark brown to blackish.
There is a rare brown morph of the Spotted Eagle Owl that has a paler ground colour to the plumage described above.

Size: Length 40-45cm. Wing length 290-360mm. Tail length 184-222mm. Weight 487-850g. Females are heavier than males.

Habits: The Spotted Eagle Owl is mostly nocturnal, but sometimes active before sunset. During the day roosts in trees, rock crevices, cave entrances, sheltered sites on cliff ledges, on the ground between rocks, under bushes, in high grass, or sometimes in burrows of larger mammals. When roosting in trees, the owl will usually sit close to the trunk with feathers compressed and ear-tufts erected. Paired birds sometimes roost together, engaging in billing and mutual preening.

Voice: The full song of the male consists of three merged notes followed by a drawn-out deeper hoot - wuhuhu-whooh. This is often preceded by several double-noted hoots - buo-hooh buo-hooh. The female's song is similar but higher in pitch. When duetting, the male and female sing simultaneously, giving the impression that there is only one bird singing. Both sexes also give single hoots at different volumes, usually when alarmed. A wailing keeow call is often given when alarmed also. The male utters a fast hokok-hokokokok probably associated with courtship. The female gives a humming call and clucking notes during courtship.

Hunting & Food: The Spotted Eagle Owl feeds on larger insects and other arthropods, small mammals, birds and reptiles. Has been known to feed on carrion. Normally hunts from a perch, gliding down on to prey, but sometimes dashes at roosting birds. Also catches flying insects, bats and possibly nightjars in flight. This owl drinks regularly when water is available.

Breeding: Males claim territories by regular singing. Duetting with the female increases during the breeding season. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground, between rocks, in a sheltered site on a cliff ledge, in a hollow tree or an abandoned platform nest of a large bird. They will also sometimes use holes in walls of buildings. Ground nests may be in grass, under a bush, on a steep slope or on an earth bank. The same site may be used for several years.
In South Africa, a peak in egg laying has been observed between July and October which is the dry season. In other parts of Africa, laying varies throughout the year, but drier weather seems to be preferred by these owls. Normally, 2-4 white eggs are laid at intervals of 1-4 days. Eggs average 49.1 x 41.1mm and are incubated by the female alone, while the male provides the food. Incubation starts with the first egg and takes 30-32 days. Chicks hatch blind and begin to open their eyes at 7 days. Their eyes start grey and gradually become yellow when about 2 weeks old. Young start leaving the nest and exploring at about 4-6 weeks and are normally flying by 7 weeks. The parents continue to to care for the young for a further 5 weeks after they fledge. Although juveniles have been observed catching and killing their own prey 7 weeks after fledging, the exact age of full independence is not known. Full sexual maturity is reached 1 year after fledging.

Mortality: Spotted Eagle Owls may reach 10 or more years in age. Recorded causes of death include nest predation by larger carnivores, human persecution, bush fires, vehicle strikes and collisions with barbed-wire fences.

Habitat: Open or semi-open woodland with shrubs and bushes, mostly with sparse ground cover, savanna with thorny shrubs and scattered trees, and rocky hillsides with groups of trees and bushes. Also semi-deserts such as the Kalahari. Dense rainforest is avoided. Ranges from sea-level up to 2100m elevation. This bird has also been known to breed in large gardens in towns.

Distribution: Sub-Saharan Africa from Kenya and Uganda south to the Cape, and from there north to the southern borders of the Central African rainforest of Congo and South Gabon. Also South Arabia to United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Range of Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus)
Range of the Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus

Status: Widespread and locally frequent.

Original Description: Temminck, Coenraad Jacob. 1821. Nouveau recueil de planches coloriees d'oiseaux, pour servier de suite et de complement aux planches enluminees de Buffon: livraison 9: pl. 50.

References: (may contain affiliate links)
Borrow, Nik & Demey, Ron. 2001. "A guide to the birds of western Africa". Princeton University Press.
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.
Voous, Karel H.. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press.
Bubo africanus at Xeno-canto.

See also: Other owls from Africa, The Middle East, Genus: Bubo.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2020-10-26. Copyright Information.