Animal Species:Barking Owl

The Barking Owl is named for its harsh 'barking' call but can also make a much louder, wailing cry, which has given rise to another name, the 'screaming-woman bird'.

Barking Owl

Barking Owl
Photographer: Ken Glasson © Ken Glasson

Standard Common Name

Barking Owl

Alternative Name/s

Northern Winking Owl, Western Winking Owl, Winking Owl, Screaming Woman


The Barking Owl is a medium-sized hawk-owl. Hawk-owls lack the definite heart-shaped face of the tyto-owls (which include the Barn Owl, Tyto alba). Adult Barking Owls are grey-brown above, with white spots on the wings, and whitish below, heavily streaked with grey-brown. The head is almost entirely grey-brown, and the eyes are large and yellow. Young Barking Owls have less streaking on the underparts and are mottled white and grey-brown on the rear of the neck. Barking Owls are nocturnal birds (night birds), although they may sometimes be seen hunting during the day.

Size range

35 cm to 45 cm

Similar Species

Southern Boobook


Barking Owls are widely distributed throughout Australia, but are absent from central areas


Barking Owls are most common in savannah woodland, although they also inhabit well-forested hill and riverine woodlands. Although moderately common, Barking Owls are more often heard than seen (typical of most nocturnal birds).

Feeding and Diet

The Barking Owl feeds on a variety of small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. Prey is located either from the air or from an exposed perch. Most hunting is performed in the first few hours of the night and the last hours before dawn. Occasionally, birds may even be seen hunting in daylight. The Barking Owl prefers to hunt in clearings, including waterways and other open areas.


The Barking Owl has two main calls, both distinctive and unmistakable. The first is a double-noted, dog-like 'wook-wook', and the second is a wavering human-like scream.

Life history mode


What does this mean?

Mating and reproduction

Barking Owls raise a single brood in a season. The nest site is an open hollow in a tree trunk, loosely lined with sticks and other wood debris. The female incubates the eggs, while the male supplies the food. Young Barking Owls remain dependent on their parents for several months, and will remain in the family group until a few months before the next breeding season.

  • Breeding season: August to October
  • Clutch size: 2 to 3
  • Incubation: 28 days
  • Time in nest: 45 days

Conservation Status

The Barking Owl is listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales.

Conservation Status (NSW): Vulnerable species

What does this mean?



What does this mean?


  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
  • Strahan, R. (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.

Ondine Evans , Web Researcher/Editor
Last Updated:

Tags BIBY, bird, birds, Australian, Barking Owl, nocturnal,


Jaynia Sladek - 10.09 AM, 20 September 2010

Hi Margy, it's a bit hard to give a positive identification without actually hearing the bird myself.  I assume that if it is disturbing your sleep, the bird is calling at night (unless you are a shiftworker?).  If it is a Barking Owl, it will really sound like a dog saying "Woof woof". They also have a shrill scream.  Frogmouths have a monotonous, continuous "oo-ooo-ooo" call, but may also give different calls depending on the situation.  As a first step in identifying your bird, try the bird-finder page at Birds in Backyards   ( ).  They have a recording of the calls of many common backyard birds.  Look for the Barking Owl, Frogmouth and Boobook Owl fact sheets to see if they match the call you are hearing.  It's also possible at this time of year that your bird might be a Common Koel, so check out that factsheet as well. Let me know if any of them sound like the bird you are hearing.  Best regards, Jaynia.

margyclark - 7.09 AM, 19 September 2010
I think I have a barking owl or a frogmouth in my back garden in Lane Cove. I would describe the sound he makes as a lound, human like, reverberant two-syllable sound but the first is much less pronounced than the second syllable. He sounded a little like a machine until I got up and went down into the garden to locate him. I could only see a small black lump on the gumtree about the size of a small rockmelon. He is a regular visitor and I would like him to leave as it disturbs my sleep. Can you help with firm identification please?

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