Mopoke, small owl, big eyes and ears

Boobook Owl

Mopoke, small owl, big eyes and ears

NOVEMBER 2015 | Sara Lloyd

THE SOUTHERN Boobook (sometimes called Boobook Owl or Mopoke) is a small mostly brown bird and one of only two species of owl that regularly occur in Tasmania.  (The other species is the much larger Masked Owl.)

It nests in a tree cavity and roosts during the day in dense foliage or a tree hollow. Its ‘boobook’ call is often heard at night and it also makes a catlike sound. It mainly feeds on insects but occasionally takes small birds and mammals.

Nocturnal birds have several traits that enable them to function in the dark. Their eyes absorb 100 times more light that human eyes so for them the darkest night is like early dusk and dusk is like bright daylight. Like other birds their eyes are immovably fixed in their sockets but their heads are very mobile. When they look at objects to the side they turn their heads – sometimes halfway around, or even upside down.

Their hearing is especially acute. They have large ear openings located near the facial discs and flaps of skin on each side of their heads. These features direct sound to the inner ears, amplify it and enhance the birds’ ability to determine its direction.

Owls have wings that are large and broad in relation to their weight.  They move silently due to their slow flight and specialised features on their feathers.  For instance, their first two or three primary feathers have a fringe that softens the contact between the air and the leading edge of their wings; and the underside of their flight feathers has a velvety surface which deadens any scraping sounds as they fly.

Sara has published a new must-read book for bird lovers titled The Feathered Tribes of Van Diemen’s Land.