The 11 Species of Owls Found in South Africa! (2023)
Do you want to know the different types of owls in South 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 11 Types of owls found in South Africa!
#1. African Grass Owl
- Tyto capensis
- 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 eastern South 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
- 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 South 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
- 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 South Africa.
It emits a monotonous, unique “prrrp” as a means of communication.
#4. Southern White-faced Owl
- Ptilopsis granti
- 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 South 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
- 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 South 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
- 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 South 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
- 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 South 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
- 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 South 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
- 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
- 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 South 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
- 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.
Do you need more help identifying an owl you saw in South 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 South Africa:
Which of these owls have you seen before in South Africa?
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