A small brown hawk-owl with pale green-yellow eyes. It has large white spots on wings with the breast and belly being streaked. The boobook is also known as the “mopoke”, due to its distinctive call, which sounds like ‘mo-poke’. Because their left and right ears are placed at different levels on their heads there is a slight difference in the time taken for a particular sound to reach each ear. This time-lag enables the owl to pinpoint the source of the sound more accurately. The higher ear has an opening facing downwards and is more sensitive to sounds from below. Feathers within the characteristic facial disc are positioned so as to funnel sound to the ears. Stiff feathers bordering the ear slits are attached to moveable flaps, so an owl can change the shape of its ear opening and focus its hearing, enabling hunting in the darkest of nights.
The male boobook prepares the nest by laying down twigs, woodchips and feathers in the hollow of a tree where the female lays 2-3 white eggs (August – January). The incubation period is 26-33 days. It should always be remembered that dead trees are as important as live ones, as they are the home for a wide range of mammals and birds. Once cleared, it may take hundreds of years for a tree to form such hollows.
The boobook owl is a nocturnal hunter. Like all owls, it is superbly adapted for night-time hunting. Its soft feathers effectively eliminate the noise of its flapping wings, allowing it to swoop upon unsuspecting prey. It may live singly or in pairs. During the day, most of the time is spent roosting in a tree hollow or cave. Owls, like many nocturnal animals, have good night vision but rely also on their excellent hearing – up to four times better than any other animal tested – which allows some to hunt in complete darkness.
Usually feeding at dusk, its diet comprises small mammals, insects, birds and invertebrates. Large amounts of indigestible fur, feathers and bones are swallowed but once or twice a day these items are regurgitated, in tightly-packed pellets.