Ian’s Bird of the Week – Southern Boobook

Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) by Ian Montgomery

Southern Boobook ( Ninox boobook) by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter  5-4-2010

Here’s one for the lovers of owls – which, I imagine, includes almost everybody. This is the commonest and most widespread owl in Australia, and its plaintive ‘boobook’ or ‘morepork’ call is a familiar sound in a huge range of habitats from tropical rainforest, through leafy suburbs and city parks to almost treeless regions of the dry interior. Despite both its abundance and lots of effort on my part, it has eluded my camera since, as a graduate student, I took some slide photos of one through a window of the Zoology Department of Sydney University in the mid 1970s.

Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) by Ian Montgomery

Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) by Ian Montgomery

This weekend just past was the occasion of the AGM of Birds Australia North Queensland and it was held at a large cattle station (property) called Trafalgar about 50km southwest of Charters Towers outside Townsville. We went spotlighting in the station truck, ideally equipped for birding safari-style with two bench seats placed longitudinally back-to-back on the rear, on a clear Sunday night and after finding a rather flighty barn owl, we encountered a Boobook in a tree beside the road that was much more cooperative. Having photographed it from the truck, I eventually got down and set up the tripod much closer to the the owl. It stayed put, despite my flash and 3 spotlights and when we finally left, it was still there. The portrait in the first photo is in fact cropped from a photo that includes the whole bird, so you can appreciate that the conditions for photography were excellent.

Later we found a Tawny Frogmouth, also a willing subject, and on the road itself, a suicidal young Owlet-Nightjar – nearly got run over – which let me approach it so closely that I could no longer focus with my 500mm lens (minimum focusing distance 4.5m/15ft). The consensus seemed to be that it was the best night’s spotlighting ever. The clear sky with no light pollution meant that we could see both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper/Plough simultaneously, and on the way back a just-past-full moon rose in the east.
The Boobook is a smallish owl ranging in size from 25-28cm/10-11in for males and 30-36cm/12-14in for females. This one seemed relatively large to me, so it was probably female. The current taxonomic treatment is to treat as a single species the various boobooks in Australia, New Zealand, southern New Guinea, Timor and some islands of eastern Indonesia. This leaves only the Sumba Boobook (Sumba is west of Timor) as a separate species, so there isn’t a ‘Northern’ Boobook as such.
Best wishes,

Barn Owl
Tawny Frogmouth
Australian Owlet-nightjar

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

Boobooks are in the Strigidae Family of the Strigiformes Order. I love that name. Not sure how it got it other than it’s sound.

Southern Boobook Audio from xeno-canto.org by Pakihi Okarito

But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: (Isa 34:11a)

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