Rufous Owl

Did you know?

The Rufous Owl is the only exclusively tropical owl in Australia.

Soft, low-pitched, measured double hoot woo-hoo
Facts and Figures
Research Species: 
Minimum Size: 
Maximum Size: 
Average size: 
Average weight: 
1 200g
Breeding season: 
June to August
Clutch Size: 
36 days
38 days
Nestling Period: 
42 days
56 days
Conservation Status
Associated Plants
Plants associated with this species
Basic Information
Scientific Name: 
Atlas Number: 
What does it look like?

Adult Rufous Owls are dark brown to dark reddish-brown above with narrow light-brown and off-white barring. They are off-white on their underparts with close rufous-brown barring. They also have greenish-yellow eyes and a prominent blackbrown mask. The sexes are alike in plumage but females are smaller.  Juveniles are distinct, with an entirely downy white head, neck and underbody and prominent dark mask. 

The different Subspecies found in Australia differ slightly in size and in intensity of coloration.

Rufous Owls are most often seen by day, roosting singly, in pairs or family groups,  typically under dense foliage on a bare horizontal branch. Their presence is usually indicated by signs such as creamy excreta, pellets and fur littering the ground or foliage beneath roosts.

Similar species: 

 The Rufous Owl is a large owl, similar in size and shape to the Powerful Owl. 

Where does it live?

In Australia Rufous Owls are restricted to coastal and subcoastal areas in the North and North East with disjointed distribution from the Kimberley to mid-eastern Queensland. 


Rufous Owls are rarely seen. They have been recorded in tropical rainforests and sclerophyll forests and woodlands including Melaleuca forests lining watercourses and, less often, in mangrove forests.

Seasonal movements: 

Rufous Owls are sedentary.

What does it do?

These Owls feed mainly by swooping, banking and gliding through forest, snatching arboreal animals from roosts or perches.  They eat small and medium-sized mammals, small to large birds and large insects. They can also take fruit-bats in flight. Rufous Owls often hold kill from the previous night in their talons, eating it piecemeal during the day. 

They usually forage in open forest or woodland adjacent to rainforests but also in clearings, suburban gardens and sometimes in swamps or among mangroves.


Rufous Owls breed in hollows in tall trees at the edge of rainforest or along watercourses or swamps. They often choose Melaleuca or Eucalyptus trees and usually nest solitarily - at a distance from other nests.

Only the females incubate and brood the young while the male hunts on behalf of the female and for the young, although only the female feeds the young directly. The female may also hunt for herself. 

Living with us

Rufous Owls are adversely affected by the clearance of forests for pasture, agriculture (especially sugar-cane plantations) and timber harvesting. 

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