The family Tytonidae includes the barn, grass and bay owls, numbering 16 species in all; they are classified as a separate group from the rest of the Strigidae or the more ‘typical’ owls. The family is widely distributed around the world and the best-known member is the barn owl Tyto alba, which occurs in various forms, usually in the tropics but, exceptionally, in the temperate latitudes of Europe (4).
Members of this family are easily distinguished by the heart-shaped facial disc and the Madagascar red owl is no exception. The common name of this species is rather appropriate as its plumage consists of a russet back, sparsely spotted with black. The underside is pale orange, again with small widely spaced black spots (2). The facial disc is white, contrasting with the overall reddish colour of the body and this helps to distinguish Tyto soumagnei from the local race of the barn owl, T. alba hypermetra, which is a slightly bigger bird(4).
The call of the Madagascar red owl differs from that of the barn owl, consisting of a hiss descending in pitch (2), whereas the barn owl usually produces a purring shriek and a range of other squeals (5).
- Also known as
- Madagascar grass owl, Madagascar owl, Soumagne’s owl.
- Chouette effraie jaune, Effraie de Soumagne, Effraie rousse de Madagascar.
- Lechuza de Madagascar, Lechuza Malgache.
- Length: 27 – 30 cm (2)
Madagascar red owl biology
Not a great deal is known about the ecology of the Madagascar red owl and what little is known has been discovered quite recently. The species is believed to nest in holes in isolated native trees, based on the first nest discovery in 1995. Two young were known to have fledged from this nest in a tree 500 metres from the forest edge and located 23 metres from the ground (2). The species is strictly nocturnal and difficult to study.
Madagascar red owl range
This species’ range is confined to the island of Madagascar and there are records from six locations, all on the eastern side of the island. Further surveys may discover more definite records elsewhere (2).
Madagascar red owl habitat
Madagascar red owls have been observed around and within the humid forest areas, but hunt over adjacent open country. They do not appear to be confined to undisturbed forest, having been recorded over cultivated fields (2).
Madagascar red owl status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed on Appendix I of CITES (3)
Madagascar red owl threats
As with so many endangered animal species, the main threat to the Madagascar red owl is loss of its habitat. Madagascar has suffered a major deforestation over the past few decades, largely through widespread slash and burn, clearing forest to provide open areas for agriculture (2).
Madagascar red owl conservation
With relatively little known about this species, it is important to find out more about both its ecology and population. Several of the six recorded sites are protected areas and further survey work is required to establish whether the owl is present in some of the National Parks to the south of its currently known range (2). In 2009 the IUCN downlisted the Madagascar red owl from Endangered to Vulnerable, as recent range extensions mean its population is now believed to be larger than previously thought. However, the population is still presumed to be small and in decline (6).
Find out more
To find out more about the Madagascar red owl see:
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- Active at night.
IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
Stattersfield, A.J. and Capper, D.R. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona and Birdlife International, Cambridge.
CITES (April, 2004)
Burton, J.A. (1973) Owls of the World: Their Evolution, Structure and Ecology. Peter Lowe, London.
Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. and Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
BirdLife International (May, 2009)