The Owl Pages

Forest Eagle Owl ~ Bubo nipalensis


The Forest Eagle Owl is a large, powerful owl with very long, almost horizontal ear-tufts. It is also known as the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl.

Photo Gallery (5 pictures)

  • Forest Eagle Owl
  • Forest Eagle Owl
  • Forest Eagle Owl
  • Forest Eagle Owl
  • Forest Eagle Owl

Sound Gallery

Typical call - Cuc Phuong, Vietnam. CC Craig Robson.
Mewing scream - Sigiriya forest, Sri Lanka. January 2012. CC David Marques.


Description: The facial disc is pale and has no dark rim around it. The eyebrows are whitish. The eyes are dark brown and the eyelids pale grey. The bill is wax-yellow or pale yellow. The bristly feathers of the lores and cheeks are brownish-white with black shafts. Ear-tufts are dark brown, with the inner (and rarely, outer) webs barred with fulvous-white.
Upperparts are dark brown with black bar-like markings, edged pale buff, and with the feather bases barred fulvous (though this is mostly concealed). The scapulars are broadly buff with dark brown bars. Wing-coverts are dark brown, while the lesser coverts have narrow buffish-white edges, and the median and greater coverts have broad buff edges mottled with brown. The primaries are dark brown with paler greyish-brown bars. The secondaries are more broadly barred with buffish-brown. The tail is greyish with blackish-brown bars.
The throat and underparts are fulvous or fulvous-white, with prominent blackish chevrons which become broad spots on the belly and undertail-coverts. The upper breast has a conspicuous, suffused honey-brown pectoral band, marked with dark chevrons.
The legs are feathered to the base of the toes, sometimes a bit further. This feathering is buffish-white with many dark brown spots or little bars. The toes are dusky yellowish-grey, and the claws are pale horn with darker tips.

Size: Length 51-63cm. Wing length 370-470mm. Weight 1300-1500g.

Habits: The Forest Eagle Owl is mostly nocturnal, roosting during the day on a densely foliaged bough in the forest.

Voice: A low, deep double hoot lasting two seconds - "hoo hoo". Also utters a mournful, mewing scream that rises and then falls in pitch and lasts about one second - "njaauuuw".

Hunting & Food: Feeds mainly on birds which it hunts by pouncing on them at their night-time roosts in trees or bamboo clumps. This includes pheasants, as well as large birds such as peafowl and junglefowl. Other prey include lizards, snakes and fish. This owl has also been reported to kill jackals, hares, and fawns of the Barking Deer.

Breeding: The breeding season ranges from December-January in Kerala, southern India, to February-March in the Himalayas - though an egg was discovered in June in northern Cachar in far east India. The nest is normally a hollow in and old tree, but this owl may also use a deserted stick nest of a bird of prey, or sometimes the bare soil in a cave or horizontal fissure in a rock scarp. Only one egg is laid, which is white, roundish oval, and averages 61.2 x 49.9mm. The female incubates the egg alone while the male provides the food. The male may cover the clutch without incubating if the female leaves for a short time. The Forest Eagle Owl is said to be very aggressive in defence of its nest or young.

Mortality: No longevity information available. These owls are threatened locally by human persecution. In India, these owls are caught by poachers, as they are in demand for use in black magic.

Habitat: Dense evergreen and moist deciduous forest, dense riparian forest, alluvial hilly country interspersed with tracts of dense forest and Himalayan foothills in the north. Also in montane evergreen wet temperate forest in the southern hills in India and Himalayas. Tropical rainforest in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Ranges from lowlands and foothills to about 1500m. In the Himalayas, mostly ranges from about 900-2100m, but sometimes up to 3000m elevation. May be found up to about 1800m elevation in Sri Lanka.

Distribution: Occurs from the Himalayas east to central Vietnam, and separately in southwest India and Sri Lanka.

Range of Forest Eagle Owl (Bubo nipalensis)
Range of the Forest Eagle Owl Bubo nipalensis

Status: Uncommon. Listed as 'Least Concern' by Birdlife International.

Original Description: Hodgson, Brian Houghton. 1836. Asiatic Researches, or Asiatick Research (As.Res.; or transactions of the society instituted in Bengal for inquiring into the history, the antiquities, the arts, and sciences, and literature of Asia) 19: p. 172.

References: (may contain affiliate links)
Ali, Salim & Daniel, J. C.. 1997. "The Book of Indian Birds". Oxford University Press.
BirdLife International. 2020. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN.
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.
Grimmett, Richard; Inskipp, Carol & Inskipp, Tim. 1999. "Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives". Princeton University Press.
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 nipalensis at Xeno-canto.

See also: Other owls from Asia, Genus: Bubo.

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