Spotted eagle-owl (Bubo africanus)

French: Grand-duc africain
GenusBubo (1)
SizeLength: 45 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Despite being one of the smaller eagle-owl species, the spotted eagle owl, nevertheless, possesses an impressive one metre wingspan. The plumage is mainly brownish-grey and heavily marked with large white spots and blotches, with the exception of the breast and underparts, which are whitish with fine grey-brown barring. The eyes are large and bright yellow and two distinctive, elongated ear tufts extend upwards from the head. In arid areas, spotted eagle-owl individuals may be encountered with chestnut-brown plumage and orange eyes, while in south-west Arabia a smaller, tawnier subspecies, Bubo africanus milesi, occurs. The spotted eagle-owl’s call is a typical hoot, hoo-hoo (2).

The most common species of eagle-owl in southern Africa, the spotted eagle-owl has an extremely large range extending throughout almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of the Arabian Peninsula (1).

While the spotted eagle-owl occupies a range of habitats, including rocky desert outcrops, woodland and savannah, its preferred habitat consists of low hills covered with a mixture of grassland, scrub and semi-open woodland, or rocky hills with scattered trees and bushes up to elevations of 2,100 metres (2).

A nocturnal species, the spotted eagle-owl emerges at dusk from its daytime roost to commence hunting. From its perch among the bushes or tree branches it swoops silently down onto its prey, either snatching it up in its talons or pursuing it on foot along the ground. Airborne prey, such as bats, birds and insects may also be skilfully chased and caught on the wing. Owing to the spotted eagle-owl’s extensive range and the variety of habitats it occupies, it is known to prey on a vast array of different animals, with various species of invertebrate, mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian all potentially forming part of its diet. The spotted eagle-owl will also eat carrion, and is therefore frequently encountered by roadsides scavenging road kill (2). Although a formidable hunter, because of the spotted eagle owl’s relatively small size, it is sometimes preyed upon by the larger Verreaux’s eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus) (4).

The bond between breeding pairs of spotted eagle-owls is strong, and they may stay together for life. During the breeding season, which generally runs from July to February, the pair constructs a nest, which is usually little more than a scraped hollow on the ground, concealed amongst rocks, grass or under a bush. Favourable nesting sites may be re-used for many years, and some have been known to host successive generations of breeding pairs for up to 40 years. Incubation lasts for around one month and is carried out by the female, while the male brings food. The young fledge and leave the nest around 30 to 38 days after hatching, but remain dependent on their parents for another five weeks. Spotted eagle-owls become sexually mature at one year old, and may live for at least ten years (2).

Some spotted eagle-owl individuals have been known to become trapped in barb-wire fences, while roadside scavenging individuals are often hit by cars. Although these incidents are unfortunate, this species’ wide range and general abundance mean that they are unlikely to have an effect on its global population (2).

There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the spotted eagle-owl (1). It is, however, likely to be found in many of the protected areas that occur throughout its large range (5).

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2014)