The barking owl is a medium sized owl. Their back is covered with grey-brown feathers across the back which are streaked with white spots. On the underside they have white feathers which is heavily streaked with brown stripes. On top of their head the feathers are grey-brown.
Barking owls are split in two subspecies with one in the north and one in the south. The northern population is smaller and darker than those in the south.
They have large yellow eyes with a black pupil in the centre. Both eyes are located at the front of the head which increases their depth perception. To allow them to see to the side they can swivel their entire head up to 270 degrees. Their beak is dark brown and they have no facial disc.
Their talons are yellow.
A barking owl will measure between 35 and 45cm (13.8-17.7in). Their weight varies between 380 and 650g (13.4-22.9oz). Their wingspan is 85-100cm (33.5-39.4in).
The barking owl is a carnivore. They feed on a range of small animals such as mammals and birds in addition to insects. During the breeding season most of their diet is the small animals while outside of breeding season they focus on insects.
Since the arrival of European settlers some barking owls have begun to feed on introduced animals such as rabbits.
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Barking owls can be found across Australia and on the island of New Guinea where they inhabit both the Indonesian and Papua New Guinea portions of the island.
In Australia they are distributed widely around the coastline avoiding only the central areas of the continent.
They make their home in forests, savannas, shrublands and wetlands.
Barking owls are tolerant of some level of habitat disruption and may inhabit forest fragments or cleared farmland areas.
Breeding takes place from August to October with some variation between pairs and over the years. Pairs remain together for life unless one partner passes away.
Nesting takes place in a tree hollow which will be lined with sticks and wood debris. Two to three eggs will be deposited in to the nest and incubated by the female for 36 days. She will be provided food by the male.
The chicks will spend 45 days in the nest after hatching and rely on their parents to bring them food.
After they fledge they will often remain with the parents until a few months prior to the next breeding season.
The barking owl is known for its distinctive ‘wook, wook’ call which resembles that of a dog. This call is typically made before dusk. Their second call resembles a human scream.
Predators and Threats
Nestlings face predation from goannas and brush-tailed possums.
A range of threats have led to them declining across much of their range. They will only breed in tree hollows which are increasingly rare. These may be cut down with a new suitable hollow taking 150-200 years to form. Hollows are also inhabited by non-native European honeybees.
Their prey species are also diminishing as a result of the loss of tree hollows. Further to this they face competition from introduced foxes and cats for these food sources.
Some populations have begun to replace native prey with introduced rabbits and as control measures for these are carried out they lose a valuable food source.
Humans affect their population through secondary poisoning from their food items, getting caught in barbed wire fences and vehicle collisions.
Their call has earned them the nickname, ‘screaming-woman bird.’ They may also be called the winking owl.
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The Australian Museum. 2020. Barking Owl. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/birds/barking-owl/> [Accessed 5 September 2020].
Birdsinbackyards.net. 2020. Barking Owl | BIRDS In BACKYARDS. [online] Available at: <https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Ninox-connivens> [Accessed 5 September 2020].
Environment.nsw.gov.au. 2020. Barking Owl - Profile | NSW Environment, Energy And Science. [online] Available at: <https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp/profile.aspx?id=10561> [Accessed 5 September 2020].
Environment | Department of Environment and Science. 2020. Barking Owl. [online] Available at: <https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/a-z/barking-owl> [Accessed 5 September 2020].
BirdLife International. 2016. Ninox connivens. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22689394A93229752. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22689394A93229752.en. Downloaded on 05 September 2020.
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