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What is a Masked Owl?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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A masked owl, scientific name Tyto novaehollandiae, is a medium sized, brownish colored owl. The flattened front part of its face, or facial disc, is clearly outlined in darker feathers giving it a mask-like appearance. Native to Australia, the population of this owl is decreasing due to loss of habitat. Like most owls, the masked owl is nocturnal, i.e., hunting at night and resting during the day. Nests are typically built in hollow trees and the breeding season is from spring to late fall.

The medium sized masked owl usually reaches a length of about 14 to 20 inches (35 to 50 cm) from head to tail and with a wingspan that measures up to 51 inches (129 cm) across. The coloration is a variety of shades of brown. The facial disc is light brown or cream color with dark shadowed rings around the eyes surrounded by a darker brown border; this gives the owl the appearance of wearing a mask. The back and wings are various shades of brown in a speckled pattern, with lighter shades dominating on the underside. Females are often darker colored than males, and young owlets are usually light colored all over.

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The native area of the masked owl is in Australia generally, but most often within 186 miles (300 km) of the coast on the western side. They live in a range of habitats including forests, woodlands, and open areas with tall trees nearby. The masked owl is dwindling in numbers due to loss of its habitat, however. Many of the tall mature trees, especially hollow ones where these owls nest, are being cut down to make room for development. The clearing of large portions of land also means that there are fewer trees with potential to become suitable nesting places in the future.

Similar to most species of owl, the masked owl is nocturnal in nature and is seldom observed by humans. They have a carnivorous diet consisting of small mammals like rabbits and rodents, birds, and reptiles. They do most of their hunting in the early part of the night by listening for prey from the trees, then swooping in for the kill. The breeding season is from April to November, and owl pairs build their nests in hollows of mature trees. The female lays two to three eggs and incubates them while the male provides food; after the babies hatch, they remain in the nest being fed and cared for by both parents for a few months.

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