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July 02, 2022

The Masked Owl - Help Protect This Beautiful Bird of Prey

Standing between 40-50cm tall and with a wingspan of up to 129cm, the Australian Masked Owl is Australia's second-largest nocturnal bird and an impressive sight to behold in the wild.

Its large, dark eyes are set in a distinctive flat, heart-shaped facial disc that is outlined by a dark ring. With plumage that ranges from pale to dark, the upper body is spotted grey and white; the lower body is reddish-brown to white and speckled with dark brown. 

Females are noticeably larger than males. But both sexes are equipped with big, powerful feet and sharp talons. 

Mates for Life 

Masked Owls will mate for life and can breed all year round, as long as there are ample food sources and favourable nesting conditions. 

Female Masked Owls lay two to three eggs per clutch, which she incubates in the nest for around 35 days while her male partner hunts and brings food back to the nest. 

Once hatched, the mother solely feeds the owlets for the first 2-3 weeks of their lives. The young are then fed by both parents until they are 10-12 weeks old.

The estimated lifespan of Masked Owls is around ten years, but it’s likely that they actually live for much longer, as similar species of owls can live for decades.   

Habitat and Ecology

Masked Owls can be found across Australia, but they are usually located within 300km of the coast. And as territorial and sedentary birds of prey, they tend to occupy the same home range for most of their lives.

Even though they have been known to nest in caves, Masked Owls often select the tree hollows to build their nests, which they line with soil, sand or soft wood mulch. So, you’ll most commonly find them in forests, woodlands, timbered waterways and on the fringes of open country.

These birds are large and strong, but they have limited manoeuvrability. So, surprise is their strength when hunting. Perching in trees, they sit and listen for prey and then swoop down to kill with their strong feet and sharp talons.

Predator of Pests

Their diet consists of rodents, reptiles, small mammals and marsupials, such as possums and bandicoots. But the Masked Owl plays an important role in the ecosystem because it also eats introduced pests, like rabbits and rats.

The introduction of rabbits in Australia led to a decline in populations of bilbies, wallabies and wombats. Rabbits have also impacted the ability of native plants to regenerate. Introduced Rat species also adversely altered ecosystems, spreading disease amongst native animals and eating the eggs of native birds.

If the Masked Owl becomes extinct in the wild, populations of these pests would only balloon and the consequences would be disastrous for our native animals and wild places.  

The Masked Owl Needs Our Help

Sadly, the Masked Owl is listed as a vulnerable species at a federal level. Their conservation status is near threatened in the Northern Territory, Vulnerable in New South Wales and Queensland and Endangered in South Australia and Tasmania.

Habitat destruction from land-clearing, bushfires and inappropriate fire regimes is fast accelerating their decline. And plans to log Australia's forests and burn them for electricity are placing these rare birds at an even greater risk.

The previous federal government allocated millions of dollars of tax-payer funds for “preparing forest industries for the future.” This research is happening now. If this industry takes off, the future is bleak: it is the destruction of habitat for already vulnerable native animals like the Masked Owl. 

The good news is, it’s not too late to help the Masked Owl. Join our community, share this article and support our campaign to prevent losing Australia’s unique wildlife to the logging industry.

By Zoe Martin

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Australian Foundation for Wilderness Limited
ACN 001 112 143
ABN 84 001 112 143
Advocating as 'Wilderness Australia'
Formerly The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd
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