The 21 Species of Owls Found in Africa! (2022)

Do you want to know the different types of owls in Africa?

 

If so, you have come to the right place. In the article below, I have listed the owls you can expect to see. For each species, you will find out how to identify each owl correctly, along with pictures, interesting facts, and RANGE MAPS!

 

The temptation to intersperse this entire article with puns is almost overwhelming.  I could just wing it and beak-off about these birds all day long, but I really do give a hoot, and soon you would be talon me to stop it. Ok, settle down because that is owl you get. 🙂

 

Keep reading to learn about 21 Types of owls found in Africa!

 


#1. African Grass Owl

  • Tyto capensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a heart-shaped facial disk in white or cream with a dark rim. They have black eyes.
  • The neck is yellow with dark spots, and the back and wings are dark brown or black with light spots.
  • Adults are 15 to 17 inches (38 to 43 cm) tall and have a wingspan of 11.1 to 13.6 inches (28 to 34 cm).

 

Look for this species of owl in Africa in savannas and grasslands.

As the name suggests, the African Grass Owl spends time in tall grass and weeds.

 

This species has a truly ingenious way of creating shelter. Instead of finding trees to perch in, they trample grass and form interconnected tunnels. Then, female African Grass owls make their nests at the end of the tunnels.

 

The diet of the African Grass Owl is primarily made up of rodents and small mammals. But, they also prey on other small birds, insects, or bats. These stealthy hunters fly close to the ground, quietly searching for prey and sneaking up on it.

 

You’ll have difficulty spotting an African Grass Owl because this species is nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night and stay in its grassy shelter during the day. However, if you do happen to find one, you’ll notice that this species looks remarkably similar to the barn owl!

 


#2. Barn Owl

  • Tyto alba

Identifying Characteristics:

  • They have a heart-shaped, white facial disk with a tawny brown outline. Their eyes are black.
  • The head, back, and tail are yellowish-brown with some white or ashy grey spots, and the underparts are white.
  • Adults are 17.3 inches (44 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 9 to 12.6 inches (23 to 32 cm).

 

Although Barn Owns typically roost in hollow trees, they’re often found in caves, wells, and even secluded buildings. They’re nocturnal, so anywhere that provides a dark, quiet space for this species to rest is a likely spot for a roost.

 

Barn Owls eat small rodents, insects, baby rabbits, small birds, frogs, lizards, and bats. They fly low over the ground, searching out prey with their excellent night vision, and quietly grab their meal from the ground.

 

Interestingly, wild Barn Owls in Africa have a fairly short life span of around two years. But, when kept in captivity, this species can live up to 20 years. Although most animals live longer in captivity due to protection from predators and steady feeding, the Barn Owl takes it to a new level!

 

While this species is most active at night, they occasionally hunt just after sunrise or before sunset. Instead of trying to find one by sight, listen for its noises which can be varied and distinctive. They communicate with drawn-out screeches, distinct repetitive twittering, or low croaks. The Barn owl can also hiss or rasp when surprised.

 


#3. African Scops Owl

  • Otus senegalensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a less defined facial disk, pronounced ear tufts, and yellow eyes.
  • The body is grey and brown, with irregular pale white or pink markings that resemble tree bark.
  • Adults are 6.7 inches (17 cm) tall with a wingspan of approximately 18 inches (46 cm).

 

The African Scops Owl lives in wooded areas and forests. They hunt and fly at night and roost during the day in trees. This species has excellent camouflage, especially while sleeping. They perch on branches with their eyes closed and their ear tufts perked, which makes them look like an extension of the tree branch!

 

This species particularly likes eating insects like beetles, mosquitos, and flies. They hunt by scanning from a tree and swooping down to collect prey on the ground. However, they will hawk for flying insects, meaning they can scoop them right out of the air while in flight!

 

The African Scops Owl has one of the most unique calls of any owl in Africa.

It emits a monotonous, unique “prrrp” as a means of communication.

 


#4. Southern White-faced Owl

  • Ptilopsis granti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • They have a white facial disk with a black outline, small black ear tufts, and bright orange eyes.
  • The upper parts of its body are grey or brown with white spots, and the underparts are mostly white with some darker streaks.
  • Adults are 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 cm) tall with a wingspan of 7.5 to 8.11 inches (19 to 21 cm).

 

Southern White-faced Owls prefer to live in dry woods and grasslands, where they hunt for large insects, reptiles, and small mammals.

 

This is one of the only owls in Africa that does not make its own nest. Instead, it uses other birds’ empty, deserted nests to nest and breed. Larger owls and other birds of prey that abandon their nests are likely making room for Southern White-faced Owls to move in!

 

Listen for the Southern White-faced Owl’s call, which is a sequence of quick, trilling hoots. It calls at night and is repeated several times. During the breeding season, it’s common for breeding pairs to sing together, frequently with quick, staccato notes followed by a longer, higher-pitched “hoot.”

 

Interestingly, this owl doesn’t migrate to avoid cold weather. Instead, when the weather cools, they increase their resting metabolism by around 45%, which helps them maintain body temperature and adjust to the cold climate.

 


#5. Cape Eagle Owl

  • Bubo capensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is brown and white with a dark brown outline, small ear tufts, and orange or yellow eyes.
  • This species is dark brown overall, with light brown and white mottling.
  • Adults are 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 cm) long with a wingspan of 13 to 17 inches (33 to 43 cm).

 

The Cape Eagle Owl lives in mountainous forests and grasslands with rocky outcrops. They use rocks to build their roosting and nesting sites, so they are most likely to be seen around caves and crevices.

Like most owls in Africa, Cape Eagle Owls are nocturnal.

In the daytime, they roost in rocky areas near bushes or occasionally in the crowns of trees. During the breeding season, males and females roost together.

 

Although it only takes 40 days for young Cape Eagle Owls to be fully grown, they often remain in the nest for up to six months while they learn to fly and hunt!

 

Both male and female Cape Eagle Owls have a strong hoot with a faint ending, but the female’s song is higher in pitch. When stressed or alarmed, they change their tune to a shorter, repetitive sound, similar to dog barking.

 


#6. Spotted Eagle Owl

  • Bubo africanus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Yellow eyes and big ear tufts accent the pale brown facial disk.
  • Their coloring is dark brown on the upper body with white and brown underparts.
  • Adults are about 18 inches (46 cm) long with a wingspan of 39 to 55 inches (99 to 140 cm).

 

Look for Spotted Eagle Owls in Africa in rocky regions, bushy grasslands, or tree crowns. They’re also very common in urban areas close to human populations.

 

This species eats a wide variety of prey, including birds, insects, small mammals, rodents, and reptiles. If the prey is small enough, the Spotted Eagle Owl will swallow it whole. If not, it tears it into pieces. During nesting periods, male Spotted Eagle Owls become so devoted to the offspring that they bring nearly all their prey back to the nest. They have been known to starve in their effort to provide enough food!

 

Spotted Eagle Owls call to one another with hooting noises. Usually, the male hoots twice, while the female hoots three times. Adults and juveniles will hiss and snap their beaks under duress. Owlets can make rasping noises when hungry, and the parents can recognize the rasping of their own hatchlings.

 


#7. Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

  • Bubo lacteus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is light grey with strong black borders. They have small ear tufts and brown eyes with unusual, pale pink eyelids.
  • Mainly gray, with some brown parts on the underside. Their back is brown with white spots on the shoulders.
  • Adults grow up to 26 inches (66 cm) in length with a wingspan of 4 feet 7 inches (up to 140 cm).

 

The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is one of only a few owls in Africa with no natural predators!

They hunt small mammals like hedgehogs, rodents, insects, birds, and reptiles.

 

Because of its nocturnal habits, it can be hard to spot a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. They roost in mature trees with large branches and dense foliage. In addition, they have excellent camouflage. Their feathers are barred in a way that makes them appear blurry, and they blend in effortlessly with the leaves.

 

Members of this species form tight-knit social circles of two parents and their offspring. They are quite territorial and often fight other individuals of the species for territory. Despite these close family ties, one of the hatchlings is often ignored in favor of the older, larger young, and often the smaller chick dies of starvation.

 


#8. Pearl-spotted Owlet

  • Glaucidium perlatum

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disc is brown and white, with yellow eyes and a yellow beak.
  • The upper body is brown with white spots and two dark spots outlined in white form false “eyes” on the back of its head.
  • Adults are 6.6 to 8.3 inches (17 to 21 cm) long with a wing length of 4 to 4.7 inches (10-12 cm).

 

The tiny Pearl-spotted Owlet is the smallest owl in Africa.

Even the fully-grown adults are called owlets because of how little they are!

 

This species is active throughout the day and at night but prefers to hunt in the dark. During the day, the Pearl-spotted Owlet roosts in small bushes and often bathes in open water. You’re likely to see one splashing around in a lake, stream, or large pond.

 

The Pearl-spotted Owlet usually hunts grasshoppers and crickets. However, they also hunt lizards, small rodents, bats, snakes, or other small birds if those prey species are available.

 

They give a loud series of short shrills that start slow and then accelerate in tempo and pitch. Towards the end of the shrill, the tempo and the pitch lower again, with the last two shrills being longer. When distressed, Pearl-spotted Owlets alert their mates through soft whistles and peeps.

 


#9. African Barred Owlet

  • Glaucidium capense

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The head is round with no defined facial disk, and the eyes, beak, and legs are pale yellow.
  • This species is grayish-brown on top, with a white chest spotted with brown dots.
  • Adults are 6.7 inches (17 cm) long, with a wingspan of around 16 inches (41 cm).

 

The African Barred Owlet’s preferred habitat is mature forests and woodland. They’re active during the day and the night. During the day, the African Barred Owlets roost in natural tree holes and hide from other birds. However, they prefer to hunt at night, scanning the ground from a perch and snatching small mammals, reptiles, and insects.

 

This species is very territorial, especially during the breeding period. They sing to advertise their territory and will swoop down on intruders, attempting to intimidate them despite their small size.

 

The African Barred Owlet communicates through a series of short, evenly-pitched, purring notes. It calls out during dusk, dawn, and through the night.

 


#10. African Wood Owl

  • Strix woodfordii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a rounded head, dark eyes, and white eyebrows. The facial disc is white with a dark brown outline. The beak is yellow.
  • The coloring is light brown above, and the underparts are white with brown spots.
  • Adults are 12 to 13.8 inches (30 to 35 cm) long with a wingspan of 8.6 to 10.6 inches (22 to 27 cm).

 

African Wood Owls, also called Woodford’s owls, live in forests and woodland areas. They’re nocturnal, and they roost in pairs in the dense foliage of trees. However, because of its nighttime activity and camouflage, you’d have a hard time finding one of these medium-sized owls in Africa.

 

Their mating period is from July to October, and the female lays 1 to 3 eggs in a hollow tree. The incubation starts as soon as the first egg is laid, so the oldest, biggest hatchling sometimes kills the younger siblings if there is a food shortage. Hatchlings sometimes stay in the nest with their parents until the next breeding season.

 

Interestingly, African Wood Owls sing duets between males and females, usually in breeding pairs. The male calls with clear, fast hoots, and the female responds in a higher pitch but with a more relaxed, slower call.

 


#11. Marsh Owl

  • Asio capensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a pumpkin-shaped facial disk with a brown rim, brown eyes, and nearly absent ear tufts.
  • The coloring on the wings is dark brown, barred with cream or white, and tawny on the chest and belly.
  • Adults are 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm) long with a wingspan of 11 to 15 inches (28 to 38 cm).

 

True to its name, the Marsh Owl lives primarily in marshlands. However, it can also be found in open grassland and short scrub. They abandon their nests and move to wetter areas if their habitat gets very dry.

 

Marsh Owls nest on the ground at the end of the rainy season. They’re monogamous and mate for life. Even though they can be somewhat territorial, it’s not unusual for nesting individuals to live in bigger colonies, close to each other.

 

Even though Marsh Owls are primarily nocturnal, they can also be seen at dusk and dawn. Look for them while they hunt, either alone or in pairs. Their diet consists of small rodents, insects, and reptiles which they find by flying low over the grass.

 


#12. Pharaoh Eagle-Owl

  • Bubo ascalaphus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a facial with a dark outline, a robust black beak, small ear tufts, and orange-yellow eyes.
  • Their coloring is spotted with dark brown, yellow-orange, and pale brown with less common creamy white spots.
  • Adults grow to between 18 and 20 inches (46 to 51 cm) long with a wingspan of 12.8 to 16.75 inches (33 to 43 cm).

 

The Pharaoh Eagle Owl is primarily found in big, open spaces with rocky outcrops. They build their nests out of grasses and other plant materials in grooves in the rock.

 

Your best chance to see a Pharaoh Eagle-owl is around dusk as it starts its hunt for food. They catch small mammals, birds, snakes, reptiles, and occasionally insects. To find their prey, they perch on a high rock or branch, listening and looking for any movement on the ground.

 

Listen for a low-pitched call that sounds like “hoo-ahh” repeated every four to five seconds. They use their calls for courtship, as well as to advertise their territory.

 


#13. Little Owl

  • Athene noctua

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The flattened head is defined by “eyebrows” that make this species appear angry. They have bright yellow eyes and beaks.
  • Their coloring above is brown mottled with cream, with pale underparts.
  • Adults are about 8 inches (20 cm) long with a wingspan of approximately 22 inches (56 cm).

 

The Little Owl is a small owl native to warm regions of Africa. They have a wide range of habitats, including forests, semi-deserts, and dunes. They can also live near humans and roost in barns, parks, and hedges.

Unlike most owls in Africa, this species is active during the day, so you have a good chance of spotting one.

It hunts by perching on trees and looking for movement on the ground. Once they spot something, they swoop down on it and grab it in their talons. You may also see a Little Owl taking prey to a hollow tree because this species often caches food for later.

 

The Little Owl mostly communicates through an evenly pitched, short call that sounds a little like a cat. However, they also use various forms of whistling when communicating. They recognize other individuals by their voices, which is handy during territorial disputes. Neighboring Little Owls will call in greeting to avoid a fight!

 


#14. Desert Owl

  • Strix hadorami

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is round and gray. The eyes are very large and orange with a black ring at the edge. This species does not have ear tufts.
  • Overall their coloring is brown, cream, and black, with pale gray underparts.
  • Adults are 11.4 to 13 inches (29 to 33 cm) tall with a wingspan of 10.5 inches (27 cm).

 

The Desert Owl, also known as the Desert Tawny Owl, lives in rocky landscapes, semi-deserts, and palm groves. They make their nests in small crevices and holes in rock formations and the sides of cliffs.

 

 

This owl is one of the hardest to spot because it’s nocturnal and extremely stealthy while hunting. Once they set their eyes on the prey, they fly silently, and their wings don’t make much noise. Their dusty gray-brown coloring also creates a perfect camouflage against the sand of their desert habitat. 

The call of the Desert Owl might be confusing if you’re familiar with the Eurasian Collared Dove because they sound nearly identical! This owl in Africa sings with a haunting, mournful pitch, and its call sounds like “hoooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” 

 


#15. Long-eared Owl

  • Asio otus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is tawny on the sides, with a black and white column between the eyes and over the beak. They have very large ear tufts and bright yellow eyes.
  • The coloring is a mix of grays and browns with black and white vertical streaks or spots.
  • Adults are 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 cm) tall with a wingspan of up to 3.25 feet (99 cm).

 

The most notable characteristic of Long-eared Owls in Africa is their large, upright ear tufts. In addition, the ears are asymmetrical, with one ear higher on the head and the other lower. This serves the purpose of hearing sounds above and below the bird’s position.

 

Long-eared Owls live in open landscapes, forests or taigas, swampy areas, and even cemeteries, gardens, or open spaces in villages and towns. So, it’s not unusual to see them hunting in populated areas at night.

 

This species divides their hunting into phases, starting their hunt before midnight, taking a break, and then hunting again just before dawn. They fly slowly and listen to their prey moving along the ground. Long-eared Owls depend on their hearing more than their sight during hunting.

 

The song of the male Long-eared Owl is a deep whoop, repeated every few seconds, slowly increasing in pitch. Females communicate as a reply to males during the breeding season, hooting back at a lower volume. Both sexes can also utter cat-like sounds.

 


#16. Short-eared Owl

  • Asio flammeus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is cream in the center and brown at the edges, with a white outline. The eyes are yellow or orange with black rings. The ear tufts are very small and often not visible.
  • Their coloring is brown overall, with darker spots on the tail and wings. The underside is pale cream to white.
  • Adults are 13 to 17 inches (33 to 43 cm) long with a wingspan of 33 to 43 inches (85 to 110 cm).

 

Short-eared Owls are partially migratory, with individuals in the north moving south during colder months. However, individuals in a consistently hot climate do not migrate. Interestingly, they also commonly migrate in search of prey if there is a shortage in a particular area.

 

Short-eared Owls have the fascinating ability to fake crippled or injured wings to lure predators away from their nests. This type of behavior is most common in water birds, but this owl uses the tactic with great success.

Instead of looking for a Short-eared Owl in Africa, try listening for one of its telltale sounds.

 

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Short-eared Owls is their irregular wing beats, which can resemble moth or bat-like movement during flight. In addition to their wingbeats, you can listen to the Short-eared Owl’s voice to identify it. It makes “waowk, waowk, waowk” or “toot, toot, toot” calls, similar to barks. During breeding, they release a loud “eeeee-yerp” sound.

 


#17. Maghreb Owl

  • Strix mauritanica

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a defined facial disk, a round head, and no ear tufts. Its eyes are deep black, and its beak is pale yellow.
  • The Maghreb owls are medium-sized birds with gray and brown plumage
  • Adults are 15 inches (38 cm) long with a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).

 

Maghreb Owls are an earless owl species found in forests and rocky areas. They don’t have a preference for a specific elevation and can be found from sea level to high mountain ranges.

 

The Maghreb owl is nearly impossible to find in the wild. It’s strictly nocturnal and extremely wary of humans. During the day, Maghreb Owls roost hidden in deep tree foliage, moving into open areas to hunt during the night. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.

 

 

The sound that the Maghreb owls make is a quavering hoot “kee-wik” during the night.

 


#18. Northern White-faced Owl

  • Ptilopsis leucotis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The well-defined facial disk is white with a bold black rim around it. It has orange eyes and a yellowish bill. Feathers grow over the bill, giving this owl a peculiar mustache. The ear tufts are large, long, and tipped in black.
  • This species is pale grey with bold white and black streaks.
  • Adults are 9.4 to 9.8 inches (24 to 25 cm) long with a wing span of 6.6″ to 7.8″ (17 to 20 cm).

 

The Northern White-faced Owl can be found in tree trunks or rich tree foliage, where it roosts during the day. It prefers to stay in dry savannas with thorny trees, dry open forests, and woodlands.

 

This species is nocturnal and hunts primarily during the middle of the night, avoiding dawn and dusk hours as well as the daytime. They hunt from a perch, swooping down on their prey, which they typically swallow whole.

 

Northern White-faced Owl’s main defense mechanism is fascinating. When they sense a threat, these owls puff out their feathers and wings to appear over twice their actual size. However, if the predator is much larger than itself, it will pull its feathers in to appear even smaller.

 


#19. Greyish Eagle Owl

  • Bubo cinerascens

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species’ facial disk is a medium brown with a dark outline. Its eyes are dark brown, and its beak is gray.
  • The coloring is brown mottled with cream on the back and wings, and the underside is white to pale cream.
  • Adults are about 17 inches (43 cm) long with a wingspan of 11 to 13 inches (28 to 33 cm).

 

The Greyish Eagle Owl is found in Africa in open savannahs and dry, rocky deserts. They roost during the day in rocky outcrops, bushes, tree foliage, or in deserted manufactured structures like outbuildings and barns.

 

Its diet consists of large insects and spiders. The Greyish Eagle hunts at night from a perch, where it sits, and waits for prey to get closer. Occasionally, this species will also “hawk” flying insects directly from the air while gliding!

 


#20. Madagascar Red Owl

  • Tyto soumagnei

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This species has a very prominent white facial disk with a brown outline and deep black eyes. It does not have ear tufts.
  • Its overall coloring is rusty, reddish brown with a pale neck and dark down spots on the shoulders.
  • Adults are 11 to 11.8 inches (28 to 30 cm) long with a wingspan of 8.2 to 9 inches (21 to 23 cm).

 

The Madagascar Red Owl is strictly nocturnal and roosts in caves, hollow tree trunks, or abandoned artificial structures during the day. It’s often found in western Madagascar’s warm, humid rainforests.

 

You’re most likely to find a Madagascar Red Owl in Africa while it hunts in forest edges and rice fields, mainly looking for small rodents and insects.

 

Madagascar Red Owls communicate with a loud hissing screech that lowers in pitch at the end. When alarmed, they produce a “wok-wok-wok” sound.

 


#21. Madagascar Owl

  • Asio madagascariensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The facial disk is light brown with darker brown circles around the eyes and a dark brown rim on the ends. This species has big, prominent ear tufts.
  • Overall their coloring is a medium brown with darker streaks and a lighter cream belly.
  • Adults are 16 to 20 inches (41 to 51 cm) long with a wingspan of 2.8 to 3.3 feet (85-101 cm).

 

The Madagascar Owl is endemic to Madagascar and can be found in the west and central parts of the island, usually in drier forested areas.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that the Madagascar Owl is the same species as the Long-eared Owl in Africa. However, because it’s largely been secluded on the island, it’s developed some traits specific to the Madagascar population.

 

This species is nocturnal and spends the daytime roosting in dense tree foliage. At night it hunts small mammals (especially rodents), insects, birds, and sometimes bats.

 

The call of the Madagascar Owl is similar to barking, with different pitches and volumes. Sometimes, the call can resemble a “ulooh” hoot.

 


Do you need more help identifying an owl you saw in Africa?

 

If so, check out this field guide, which is full of great information!

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And be sure to check out these other articles about animals in Africa:

 


Which of these owls have you seen before in Africa?

 

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