Philippine eagle-owl (Bubo philippensis)

Also known as: Philippine horned owl
Synonyms: Pseudoptynx philippensis, Scops philippensis
Spanish: Búho Filipino
GenusBubo (1)
SizeSize: 40 cm (2)
Wingspan: 120 cm (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4). Two subspecies are recognised: B. p. philippensis and B. p. mindanensis (2).

Endemic to the Philippines, this eagle-owl is one of the largest owls in the world, with an impressive wingspan of around 120 centimetres (3). The plumage is predominantly rufous coloured, and this eagle-owl is characterised by small, outward-slanting ear tufts and huge yellow eyes (2) (5). The facial disc is rufous-buff, the upper throat is buff, and the head, breast and upperparts are a tawny-rufous with conspicuous dark brown streaks (5). The wings and tail are barred dark-brown and rufous-buff, while the lower breast and belly are whitish with bold dark streaks (5). Calls involve a long series of bububububub sounds, fading away at the end, and high-pitched screams (2).

Restricted to the Philippines, where B. p. philippensis is known from Luzon and Catanduanes, and likely occurs on Sibuyan, while B. p. mindanensis is found on Samar, Leyte, Mindanao and Bohol (6).

Found amongst lowland forest, often near lakes and rivers, generally below 650 metres but occasionally up to 1, 250 metres (Leyte) (2) (6). The owl tolerates disturbed, selectively logged and secondary forest and will also inhabit coconut plantations with patches of thick secondary growth (2).

It has been argued that the Philippine eagle-owl’s striking resemblance to the Asian fishing owls (Ketupa spp.), and the fact that it is seemingly always found near water, suggests that at least some of its prey is likely to be hunted from rivers and lakes (6). However, the bird’s large and powerful feet are more reminiscent of species that feed on small mammals and birds (5) (6), and more research is certainly needed to better understand this owl. No breeding information is as yet available except that an immature was collected in May and young birds were seen in April 1993 at an unspecified locality (6).

This species’ population is small, fragmented, and undergoing a rapid decline due to extensive lowland deforestation throughout its range and possibly hunting (2). By the end of the nineteenth century large areas of the Philippines’ forest had already been cleared for agricultural expansion, which continued throughout the twentieth century (7). However, the most extensive and rapid deforestation in the latter half of the century has been caused by commercial logging that has particularly impacted primary lowland forests, which shrunk from an estimated 10 million hectares in the 1950s to only one million by the late 1980s (7). A substantial proportion of remaining lowland forest in the Philippines is leased to logging concessions, and mining applications pose an additional threat (2). Typhoons on Catanduanes in 1987 and 1996 also destroyed large areas of forest (2). With relatively little habitat remaining below 1,000 metres (6) there is now considerable concern for this eagle-owl, whose large size requires large tracts of forest to maintain populations (3). Hunting is a major problem in the Philippines, with firearms widely available and 40 percent of the country’s threatened birds currently affected (7). The impact of hunting on the Philippine eagle-owl is not known, but could be significant (6).

The Philippine eagle-owl is known from several protected areas (2), including three CPPAP sites (Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project): Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park on Luzon, and Mts Kitanglad and Apo on Mindanao (6). Aside from these areas, the species is known from two "key sites" (Central Catanduanes and Angat Watershed on Luzon) that, it has been advocated, deserve formal designation as protected areas (6). However, protection measures in existing ‘protected areas’ also need to be improved in accordance with their official protected status, such as at the U. P. Laguna Land Grant, which currently lacks full protection (6). Hunting of all bird species is illegal in the Philippines, but enforcement is lacking or inadequate and local people in many areas are likely to resist attempts at strict control (7). In the mid-1990s, the bird featured on a bilingual environmental awareness poster focusing on owls as part of the "Only in the Philippines" series (2) (6). However, concerted education and awareness programmes are still needed within the communities in and around key sites, to demonstrate the effects of hunting on the threatened birds (7).

The Philippine eagle-owl has become the ‘flagship species’ for the Philippine Owl Conservation Programme (POCP), which was set up by the World Owl Trust (WOT) (working alongside the UK Owl Taxon Advisory Group and in partnership with the Philippine Government) to help ensure the survival of endangered endemic owl species and their habitats (8). The WOT has made considerable efforts to set up captive-breeding programmes for the eagle-owl (8) and, finally, in December 2005, the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc. (NFEFI) announced that a Philippine eagle-owl had successfully hatched in captivity (9). The breeding of this poorly understood eagle-owl at NFEFI is the world's first and only successful breeding of the species in captivity, and provides new hope for the conservation, propagation and ultimately the survival of this rare, endemic bird for the future (9).

For more information on the Philippine eagle-owl see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)