Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Sooty Owl

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Sooty Owl ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 9/7/15

You may remember that in March of this year Greater Sooty Owl featured as Bird of the Week when I visited East Gippsland east of Melbourne with my Victorian birding pals Barb, Jen and Joy. Last Thursday I met up with the trio again, this time at Kingfisher Park west of Cairns, Far North Queensland. The main target was, naturally, Lesser Sooty Owl , another member of the Barn Owl family and a species as elusive as its larger cousin. I’d seen one at Kingfisher Park in 2002 but hadn’t photographed it and none of the trio had seen it before.

Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata) by Ian

It’s a Wet Tropics endemic ranging from Paluma – and perhaps Bluewater Forest near me – in the south to Cedar Bay in the north, with an estimated population of 2000 pairs. I’ve searched for it many time since without success so I’d agree with the field guides that say: “seldom seen” (Morcombe) and “until field studies in recent decades … among our least-known birds” (Pizzey and Knight). On Wednesday night I’d searched for it along some dreadful tracks in Tumoulin Forest Reserve near Ravenshoe and on Thursday night we spotlighted the 10km length of the Mount Lewis road near Kingfisher Park with the usual result.

Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata) by Ian

It does occur at Kingfisher Park and Andrew Isles told us to listen for it in the evening “after the barn owls” which live in adjacent Geraghty Park. Barn and Sooty Owls make chirruping calls and both species of Sooty Owl have a characteristic descending whistle like a falling bomb. Sure enough at 6:55pm an owl chirruped maybe 50 metres from the trio’s apartment and we raced around the corner to find this bird had come to visit us and was perched in full view in a tree at a photography-friendly height. Later, I agreed with Joy that it was an OMG moment on a par with encountering the Kagu family on a forest track in New Caledonia.

Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata) by Ian

In the past, the Greater and Lesser have been treated as a single species, but the species split is now generally accepted. They are genetically close, but there is a big difference in sizes – Lesser 31-38cm/12-15in , Greater 37-51cm/14.5-20 (females of both are larger than the males) – and differences in appearance, call and behaviour. Their ranges are disjoint with the Greater found from near Melbourne (Strzelecki and Dandenong Ranges) along the east coast to Eungella National Park near Mackay in Central Queensland. There is also a Sooty Owl in New Guinea. It’s still lumped with the Greater, which is biogeographically unlikely, but has been placed with the Lesser and may even be a different species.

Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata) by Ian

The behaviour of the Lesser differs in that it uses lower perches for hunting, good for photographers, and is known to cling to the side of tree trunks like the Eastern Yellow and Pale-yellow Robins. The last photo shows its impressive talons: these would be able to cling on to anything.

Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata) by Ian

If you’re into benchmarks, last week’s bird, the Ouvea Parakeet, was the 1500th global species on the Birday website (15% of all bird species) but the Australian total was stuck at 699 waiting for something special of course. The Lesser Sooty Owl will be a fitting 700th – I haven’t put it up yet, you get to see if first – that’s 700 out of the 898 ever recorded or 78%.

I’m back home now planning my next project now that the Diary of a Bird Photographer Volume 1 has been published. So far, 27 copies have been purchased and favourable comments are coming in from all over the place including California, UK, Italy and Dubai. The Fat Birder has published a review in which he said:

“I hope anyone who enjoys fine photography and fantastic birds will go to iTunes and download the book… I for one can’t wait for volume 2”

Happily, the remaining 940 members of the bird of the week list don’t have to wait that long for Volume 1!


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:

Lee’s Addition:

The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. (Isaiah 43:20 KJV)

I am impressed with this neat Lesser Sooty Owl from our Creator and also with Ian’s number of Global and Australian birds he has on his birding list.

Now that he is producing these books, I hope he will continue to give permission to reproduce his Bird of the Week Newsletters.


Ian’s Bird of the Week 

Ian’s Birdway

Barn Owls – Tytonidae

Wordless Birds


Birds of the Bible – Barn Owls

Western Barn Owls (Family Tytonidae) by Bob-Nan

Western Barn Owl (Family Tytonidae) by Bob-Nan

the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, (Leviticus 11:17-18 ESV)
and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the eared owl; and the barn owl, and the pelican, and the owl-vulture; (Leviticus 11:17-18 MKJV)

Australian Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) by Wiki

Australian Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) by Wiki

The Lord has created another interesting and fantastic bird, the Barn Owl. The Owls are mentioned in the list of unclean birds the Israelites were not to eat. The Bible mentions several different kinds of owls and that is possibly why the taxonomists today divide them at least into two different families. Within those families, especially the larger one, Strigidae, the are different groupings. The Barn Owl family, Tytonidae, all seem to have this heart-shaped face you will read about and see. Some of the other Bible versions call it the “white owl.” Most of the ones I found photos of do have a white face or almost white face.

Barn-owls (family Tytonidae) are one of the two families of owls, the other being the true owls, Strigidae. Barn Owls are medium to large sized owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long, strong legs with powerful talons. They also differ from Strigidae in structural details relating in particular to the sternum and feet.

Sulawesi Masked Owl (Tyto rosenbergii) by Wiki

Sulawesi Masked Owl (Tyto rosenbergii) by Wiki

The Barn Owl is a pale, long-winged, long-legged owl with a short squarish tail. Depending on subspecies, it measures about 25–45 cm (9.8–18 in) in overall length, with a wingspan of some 75–110 cm (30–43 in). Tail shape is a way of distinguishing the Barn Owl from true owls when seen in flight, as are the wavering motions and the open dangling feathered legs. The light face with its heart shape and the black eyes give the flying bird an odd and startling appearance, like a flat mask with oversized oblique black eyeslits, the ridge of feathers above the bill somewhat resembling a nose.[Wikipedia]

The barn-owls’ main characteristic is the heart-shaped facial disc, formed by stiff feathers which serve to amplify and locate the source of sounds when hunting. (See Calculating Owls below) Further adaptations in the wing feathers eliminate sound caused by flying, aiding both the hearing of the owl listening for hidden prey and keeping the prey unaware of the owl. Barn-owls overall are darker on the back than the front, usually an orange-brown colour, the front being a paler version of the back or mottled, although there is considerable variation even amongst species. The bay-owls closely resemble the Tyto owls but have a divided facial disc, ear tufts, and tend to be smaller.

On average, within any one population males tend to be less spotted on the underside than females. The latter are also larger, as is common for owls. A strong female Western Barn Owl of a large subspecies may weigh over 550 g (19.4 oz), while males are typically about 10% lighter. Nestlings are covered in white down all over, but the heart-shaped facial disk is visible soon after hatching.

the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl (Deuteronomy 14:16 ESV)

Western Barn Owl (Tyto alba) by Nikhil Devassar

Western Barn Owl (Tyto alba) by Nikhil Devassar

Its head and upperparts are a mixture of buff and grey (especially on the forehead and back) feathers in most subspecies. Some are purer richer brown instead, and all have fine black-and-white speckles except on the remiges and rectrices, which are light brown with darker bands. The heart-shaped face is usually bright white, but in some subspecies it is browner. The underparts vary from white to reddish buff among the subspecies, and are either mostly unpatterned or bear a varying amount of tiny blackish-brown speckles. It was found that at least in the continental European populations, females with more spotting are healthier on average. This does not hold true for European males by contrast, where the spotting varies according to subspecies. The bill varies from pale horn to dark buff, corresponding to the general plumage hue. The iris is blackish brown. The toes, as the bill, vary in color; their color ranges from pinkish to dark pinkish-grey. The talons are black.

African Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) by Wiki

African Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) by Wiki

The barn owls are a wide ranging family, absent only from northern North America, Saharan Africa and large areas of Asia. They live in a wide range of habitats from deserts to forests, and from temperate latitudes to the tropics. The majority of the 16 living species of barn owls are poorly known. Some, like the (Madagascar) Red Owl, have barely been seen or studied since their discovery, in contrast to the Common Barn Owl, which is one of the best known owl species in the world. However, some sub-species of the Common Barn Owl possibly deserve to be a separate species, but are very poorly known.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not hoot (such calls are made by typical owls, like the Tawny Owl or other Strix). It instead produces the characteristic shree scream, ear-shattering at close range. Males in courtship give a shrill twitter. It can hiss like a snake to scare away intruders, and when captured or cornered, it throws itself on its back and flails with sharp-taloned feet, making for an effective defence. Also given in such situations is a rasp and a clicking snap, produced by the bill or possibly the tongue.

Barn Owl clicks and call from xeno.canto.org

Couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some verse of the “heart.”

I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. (Psalms 9:1 KJV)
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: (Psalms 10:17 KJV)
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14 KJV)
Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.
(Psalms 27:14 KJV)

See Also:

Owls – Birds of the Bible
Calculating Owls – Find out how the Barn Owl finds things.


Some information from Wikipedia