Tasmanian Masked Owl
The Australian Masked owl is the largest and most powerful of all Tyto owls. Mainly greyish-brown above, with white and black spots. Facial disc is pale chestnut-brown to brownish-buff, with a darker patch around the eyes, extending towards the base of the bill. The rim is very prominent and brown with darker speckles. Eyes are blackish-brown and the bill whitish-cream. Underparts are boldly marked with relatively large dark spots. Legs are feathered and toes greyish-brown to yellowish-grey with blackish-brown talons. Females are darker and larger than males. Young Masked Owls are white to cream in colour when first fledged. After the first year, they closely resemble the adults but may be more heavily streaked. The Tasmanian bird may grow larger than those on the mainland making it Australia’s largest owl.
Masked Owls may breed at any time of the year, when conditions are favourable and food items are plentiful. The nest is a bare chamber located deep in a tree hollow, which is lined with soil, sand or soft wood mulch. The two to three eggs are incubated solely by the female, while the male provides the food. The female also tears up the food for the chicks. The young birds leave the nest after two to three months of hatching, but remain in the vicinity of the nest and are fed by the parent birds for a further month.
The Masked Owl inhabits forests, woodlands, timbered waterways and open country on the fringe of these areas. The main requirements are tall trees with suitable hollows for nesting and roosting and adjacent areas for foraging. The range is a broad coastal band around most of mainland Australia and throughout Tasmania, and for the most part is less than 300 km from the coast. Masked Owls are territorial, and pairs remain in or near the territory all year round. They are nocturnal, secretive creatures.
Masked Owls feed mainly on small mammals, such as rodents, rabbits and bandicoots. Other prey animals include possums, reptiles, birds and insects, with hunting taking place in the early hours of night. The birds sit on low perches listening for prey which, once detected, is taken from the ground or from the tree branches.