Marsh Owl Fact File

Asio capensis

Credit: Peter Wilton, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons








Wild 15 years

Captive 15 years




Conservation Status


Least Concern

The marsh owl is a native of Africa and may be called the African marsh owl. Here they have a rather fragmented distribution across the continent.

Unlike most other owls which nest and roost in the trees the marsh owl will complete this on the ground. This is surrounded with grass to help hide them from predators.

Chicks are first able to leave the nest within 18 days. Once the chicks leave the nest the parents will find them using their calls to find the chick and feed it.

They are threatened through habitat loss and collision with man-made objects.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the marsh owl look like?

These animals are subject to some variation across their range. The face is colored buff with a black edge to the facial disc and around the eyes. Their body is colored rufous-brown with paler feathers on the underside. They have dark brown and white barring on the tail.

Their bill is gray with a black tip. The feet are colored gray and end with black talons. Their large eyes are dark brown.

An average marsh owl will measure 38cm (15in) long with a weight of 315g (11oz). They have a wingspan of 28.4-38cm (11.2-15in) across.

Males and females are similar in appearance and size though the male is often paler in coloration.


What does the marsh owl eat?

Marsh owls are carnivores which will feed on invertebrates and small animals such as rodents, bats, birds, frogs and lizards. They are an opportunistic feeder which will eat whatever they can find.

When hunting they swoop low over the ground to seek out likely prey items. To help find insects they will hang around lights.

During the breeding season they will cache food which can then be consumed later.

Marsh owl

Credit: Danelle Murray, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Where can you find the marsh owl?

Africa is the native home of the marsh owl. Here they can be found in Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Chad; Congo; Côte d'Ivoire; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Guinea; Kenya; Lesotho; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Portugal; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Sudan; Spain; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe.

Populations of this species are present on the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa.

They are considered to be extinct in Algeria.


What kind of environment does the marsh owl live in?

They are found in savanna, grassland and wetlands.

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How does the marsh owl produce its young?

The breeding season for the marsh owl is highly variable across its range.

Their nest is built on the ground with vegetation present on all sides of the nest to keep them hidden.

Pairs of marsh owls are considered monogamous.

In to this nest the female will deposit between 2 and 6 eggs which are colored white. These hatch after a four week incubation period. Females complete the entire incubation supported by the male who will bring her food.

Young may spend as little as 18 days in the nest during which time they are brooded by the female. Parents keep track of the chicks through their calls and will seek them out to feed them.

Their first flight takes place at five weeks old.


What does the marsh owl do with its day?

During the day these animals will roost on the ground among grass or in a hollow. This is primarily attributed to the lack of trees in their habitat.

These animals are considered crepuscular meaning they are active at dawn or dusk. Some individuals bask in the last few hours of sunlight each day before beginning to hunt.

Their vocalization is a hoarse, grating call and a quarrk, quarrk when in flight.

A male will make a claim over his territory by circling above while clapping the wings and croaking.

Outside of the breeding season these birds will gather in groups with up to 100 individuals.

Marsh owl

Credit: Danelle Murray, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the marsh owl?

Natural predators of the species include birds of prey which can take chicks and adults along with mongoose which primarily take eggs.

If a predator approaches they will feign injury to distract them.

The population of the species is considered to be stable within its range.

They are threatened by habitat loss through fires and degradation as a result of grazing and the harvesting of material for the production of thatch products. These animals may die through collisions with traffic and barbed wire fencing.

Nests may perish due to fire, being trampled by livestock or flooding.

Quick facts

They may also be known as the African marsh owl.

Marsh owl

Credit: Josefito123, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

BirdLife International. 2016. Asio capensisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22689535A93235768. Downloaded on 03 October 2021.

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve Blog. 2021. Marsh Owl | Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve Blog. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021].

Lewis, D., 2021. Marsh Owl (Asio capensis) - Information, Pictures, Sounds - The Owl Pages. [online] The Owl Pages. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021]. 2021. Marsh Owl. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021]. 2021. Marsh Owl (Asio capensis) – Planet of Birds. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021]. 2021. Asio capensis (Marsh owl). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021].

Wild Life in Safari |. 2021. Marsh Owl | African Birds | Owl | Wildlife | Wild Life in Safari. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 October 2021].

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