- Spotted Eagle-Owl
 - Spotted Eagle-Owl
 - Spotted Eagle-Owl
 - Spotted Eagle-Owl

Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus Scientific name definitions

Denver W. Holt, Regan Berkley, Caroline Deppe, Paula L. Enríquez, Julie L. Petersen, José Luis Rangel Salazar, Kelley P. Segars, Kristin L. Wood, Jeffrey S. Marks, and Peter F. D. Boesman
Version: 1.0 — Published August 18, 2021
Revision Notes

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Widespread in the southern half of Africa, the Spotted Eagle-Owl is the most common owl species in many areas. It occurs in a variety of habitats, from rocky outcrops in desert to semi-open woodland, and often occupies areas with a mosaic of low hills, grassland, and scrub, rocky hills with scattered trees and bushes, and thorn savanna, but it avoids dense rainforest. This relatively small eagle-owl is an opportunist forager with a wide variety of prey recorded, taking mainly arthropods, small mammals, and birds. The nest is a shallow scrape, usually on the ground beneath a bush, among grass or rocks, or on an earth bank, but can be on cliff ledge, or on an old raptor or Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) nest, or Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius) colony. The Spotted Eagle-Owl ranges from southern Gabon east to southern Democratic Republic of Congo and central Kenya, south to the Cape of South Africa.


Length 40–45 cm (1); male 490–620 g, female 640–850 g; wingspan 100–113 cm (2). Rather small eagle-owl with long, erect ear tufts . Facial disc gray with faint white bars, outlined in black; head and neck brown-gray with white to buff spots, including ear tufts; upperparts gray to brown with pale spots, flight feathers and tail broadly banded in buff; whitish below, finely barred gray-brown, upper breast often with large gray blotches; tarsus feathered whitish, faintly barred; irides typically bright yellow (1); cere gray; bill black; bare tips of toes dark horn (1). In more arid areas rarer chestnut-brown morph, with ground color browner above and buff below, eyes orange. Differs from Cape Eagle-Owl (Bubo capensis) in smaller size, yellow eyes, and grayer plumage. Juvenile washed browner below, less spotted above.

Systematics History

Often considered to include Bubo cinerascens, the Grayish Eagle-Owl, as a subspecies, but the two species differ in morphology and are not known to interbreed where their ranges overlap. Subspecies tanae perhaps only a pale variant, as is the form described from Namibia (trothae). Arabian Eagle-Owl (Bubo milesi) was long treated as a subspecies of the present species, but vocal differences and other considerations have lead to its treatment as a separate species (3, 4).



Bubo africanus africanus Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Bubo africanus africanus (Temminck, 1821) [type locality = Cape of Good Hope, South Africa].


Southern Gabon east to Democratic Republic of Congo (south of rainforest), southern Uganda, and central Kenya, south to the Cape region of South Africa.


Larger then subspecies milesi (wing length 290–370 mm versus 302–330 mm (1).


Bubo africanus tanae Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Bubo africanus tanae Keith and Twomey, 1968.


Central and lower Tana River and Lali Hills of southeastern Kenya.


Paler, less barred than other subspecies.


Widespread in the southern half of Africa, from southern Gabon east to Democratic Republic of Congo (south of rainforest), southern Uganda and central Kenya, south to the Cape region of South Africa.


Occurs in a variety of habitats, from rocky outcrops in desert to woodland with sparse ground cover: often occupies areas with a mosaic of low hills, grassland, and scrub; prefers semi-open woodland, and rocky hills with scattered trees and bushes; also found in thorn savanna and in suburban gardens, such as outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe (5); avoids dense rainforest. Occurs from sea-level up to ~2,100 m elevation (1).


Generally resident (1); local movements in elevation recorded in Malawi, moving to higher elevations during hot summers.

Diet and Foraging

Opportunist, taking mainly arthropods, small mammals, and birds. Large number of different types of prey recorded: arthropods include scorpions, spiders, and beetles; mammals include moles, rodents, hares, hedgehogs, and bats; birds range from sunbirds and doves to falcons, hornbills, and francolins; also reptiles, amphibians, snails, and freshwater crabs (6, 1). Diet related to locality and season: in Namib Desert, mainly geckos, gerbils, and moles; in South Africa, 67% of 1,076 prey items were invertebrates; along coast, a pair fed mostly on terns; rodents are major prey when abundant. Prey items (n = 178) identified from photographs of 3 nesting pairs in South Africa consisted of various insects (55.0%; mostly moths and beetles), snakes (19.7%), centipedes (12.4%), frogs (6.7%), rodents (2.8%), geckos (2.2%), a hare (0.6%), and a bat (0.6%) (7). Small sample of pellets from South Africa yielded remains of bats, shrews, rodents, birds, and insects (8). Occasionally eats carrion; regularly drinks water. Crepuscular and nocturnal, rarely diurnal. Hunts from perch, often along roadsides, gliding down on to prey; most prey taken on ground, where often runs after smaller animals; also chases insects, bats and birds aerially.


Vocal Development

Chicks in the nest make cheeping sounds. Outside it, juveniles utter a short hoarse hissing note chhhh (note duration ~0.4 second), repeated at intervals. Further vocal development unknown.

Vocal Array

Male hoot. A double hoot, the second note fainter and lower-pitched whooo..huu (duration of first hoot 0.43‒0.74 second; total duration of the double hoot ~1.6 seconds) (4). While vocalizing, the white throat collar becomes more prominent.

Female hoot. A double hoot, the first modulated, the second fainter and lower pitched: whoo-uh..huu. Often becomes an asynchronous duet in response to male hooting, and is then slightly higher pitched.

WhUh. A short emphatic hoot (duration ~0.3 second).

Whookokokok. A soft fast series of hoots (9), also described as hokok-hokokokok (1).

Other. When on the nest, male makes a low humming hoorhoorhoor. Female gives a humming call that is lower pitched and has more clucking notes when scraping the nest depression, and also utters low clucks when tending chicks (9). A wailing keeyow has also been described, uttered in alarm (10, 1).

Geographic Variation

Parapatric Grayish Eagle-Owl (Bubo cinerescens) has long been considered conspecific. Its voice is structurally similar to B. africanus, but its hoots are consistently shorter in duration with longer intervals, and with a greater drop in frequency between the first and second hoots (4). Within the range of B. africanus, no geographic variation has been described, but the voice of subspecies tanae is unknown.


In southern Africa, male and female hooting can be heard most of the year. Duetting reported mainly during the breeding season (1).

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Especially vocal soon after darkness falls and pre-dawn, but may call at any time during the night.

Places of Vocalizing

Little documented. Vocalizing birds mainly seen perched on heavy branches at mid-level.

Gender Differences

Male and female hooting is clearly different, and easily identifiable based on the first hoot, which is disyllabic in females. Other calls not known to be gender specific.

Social Content and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Hoots given in territorial defense (presumably both sexes) and mate attraction, and duetting for pair bonding. The short whUh call has been associated with alarm, whereas the whookokokok call is associated with courtship (9, 1).

Nonvocal Sounds

Chicks and adults snap bills, typically one snap at a time, generating a loud tak. Often accompanied by a hiss and chitter in threat and distraction displays (9).


Monogamous, probably pairs for life. Nest a shallow scrape, usually on ground beneath bush, among grass or rocks, or on earth bank, but can be on a cliff ledge, or on old platform built by Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta), or using a Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius) colony as platform (11); sometimes in hole in tree or building, or old stick nest of diurnal raptor (12); same site sometimes used each year, giving it distinctive odor; traditional sites may be occupied for 30–40 years. Lays in July–February; mainly July–October in South Africa. Clutch 2–4 eggs (range 1–5); mean egg size 49.1 × 41.1 mm (1); incubation 30–32 days, from first or second egg, by female, fed by male; chick with white down; young brooded and fed by female , male delivers prey usually already decapitated; young leave nest at 30–38 days, later if nest above ground, fledge at ~48 days, dependent on parents for at least five weeks after fledging , but precise age of independence unknown.

Demography and Populations

First breeding possibly at 1 year old. Longevity of at least 10 years recorded. Nesting success generally high: at a site in Rwanda, young reared in 14 of 15 seasons; in Zimbabwe, 11 young fledged from 12 eggs; sometimes double-brooded if food abundant.

Population Status


No global population estimate. Little data on population density. In Zimbabwe, ~3 pairs found in 6 km². Fairly common in Tanzania, but uncommon in Uganda and Kenya. Widespread throughout the southern half of Africa, where often the commonest owl in many habitats.


No data on population trends, but no indication that numbers are declining significantly (BirdLife International).

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. No global population estimate or information on population trend (see Demography and Populations: Population Status). Widespread throughout southern half of Africa, where often the commonest owl species in many habitats. Fairly common in Tanzania, uncommon in Uganda and Kenya.

Effects of Human Activity

Sometimes hit by vehicles, may become trapped in barbed-wire fences (or thorn bushes), and drowns in stock tanks or farm ponds (13); other threats include local human persecution.

Recommended Citation

Holt, D. W., R. Berkley, C. Deppe, P. L. Enríquez, J. L. Petersen, J. L. Rangel Salazar, K. P. Segars, K. L. Wood, J. S. Marks, and P. F. D. Boesman (2021). Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.spoeao2.01