Animal Species:Southern Boobook Owl

The Southern Boobook is the smallest and most common owl in Australia. Like other owl species, the Southern Boobook is nocturnal. They are often observed perched on an open branch or tree-top, emitting a distinctive 'boo-book' or 'mo-poke'.

Boobook Owl

Boobook Owl
Photographer: J Hicks © Australian Museum

Standard Common Name

Southern Boobook Owl

Alternative Name/s



The Southern Boobook is the smallest and most common owl in Australia. It is identified by its plumage, which is dark chocolate-brown above and rufous-brown below, heavily streaked and spotted with white. The bill is grey with a darker tip, and the feet are grey or yellow. The facial disc is chocolate brown and the eyes are large and yellowish. Tasmanian birds are smaller and more heavily spotted with white, while birds of the Cape York rainforests are slightly larger and darker. Young Southern Boobooks are almost entirely buff-white below, with conspicuous dark brown facial discs. Like other owl species, the Southern Boobook is nocturnal. Birds are often observed perched on an open branch or tree-top.

The similarly plumaged Barking Owl, N. connivens, is more grey-brown, and has streaks rather than spots on the underparts. The Barking Owl is also larger, measuring 35 to 45 cm.

Size range

28 - 36 cm long

Similar Species

Barking Owl


Southern Boobooks are found throughout mainland Australia and Tasmania, and on some coastal islands. Closely related species are found in New Zealand, New Guinea and Indonesia.


Southern Boobooks are seen in a variety of habitats from dense forest to open desert, including woodlands, rural, heath and urban habitats.

Feeding and Diet

The Southern Boobook feeds on insects, small mammals and other small animal species. Feeding takes place mostly at night but some afternoon and morning activity may occur, especially on dull days. Most prey is detected by listening and watching from a suitable tall perch. Once detected, flying prey, such as moths and small bats, is seized in mid-air, while ground-dwelling prey is pounced upon.


A distinctive 'boo-book' or 'mo-poke'.

Mating and reproduction

The Southern Boobook's nest is normally a tree hollow, which is usually sparsely lined with wood shavings, leaves and small twigs, but may be left bare. The female alone incubates the eggs, but both sexes, and sometimes a second female helper, feed the young.

  • Breeding season: September to February; mainly October
  • Clutch size: 2 to 3 (occasionally up to 5)
  • Time in nest: 42 days



What does this mean?


  • Higgins, P.J. (ed) 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 4 (Parrots to Dollarbird). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • 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 owl, bird, night, Southern, boobook, birds, biby, nocturnal,


Jaynia Sladek - 2.03 PM, 08 March 2011

Hi Brenda. Yes, as with many owls, they can look a little scary with their big staring eyes. I also find their call to be a very friendly sound. You're lucky to have them close to home.

Brenda H - 10.02 PM, 03 February 2011
This picture of the adult Bobook Owl is very scary. But the bird is not at all scary - I have one or maybe more(?)nearby that calls "Mo-poke" for hours almost every night. I find it a friendly sound esp. as night time is very quiet here (no traffic noise)in the midst of Melbourne's water catchment forests in WARBURTON Vic.

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