Barking Owl

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Barking Owl.jpg
Barking Owl
Ninox connivens connivens
Australia: nil
Victoria: endangered
FFG: listed

The Barking Owl (Ninox connivens) is a moderately large owl about 40cm in length; it has bright yellow eyes and almost no facial mask, which is typical of the hawk owl family. Viewed from the front its chest and abdomen are white with brownish-grey vertical streaks. Upper wings and back are brown-grey with white spots, flight feathers and tail are barred. It can be distinguished from the larger Powerful Owl which has barring across its front rather than vertical streaks (Juvenile Powerful Owls have some sparse vertical streaks but not as obvious as the Barking Owl). The Powerful Owl also has more barring across its back rather than the white spots of the Barking Owl.

Two subspecies of Barking Owl are recognised from mainland Australia, Ninox connivens connivens (eastern Australia, southern Australia and southwest western Australia). The other subspecies Ninox connivens peninsularis occurs in the northern part of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and far north Queensland.

In Victoria, most records are scattered across the western part of Great Dividing Range to the Grampians, Victoria's north east (Beechworth) area and the ranges to the north east of Melbourne.

In the South West region concentrations of population have been identified in the Goldfields and the Greater Grampians (and adjacent part of the Dundas Tablelands) bioregions, with all sites being in state forest.

The Barking Owl has an estimated population size of fewer than 50 pairs in Victoria and is extremely rare in the West Region of Victoria. Nocturnal studies in 1998-1999 recorded Barking Owls at only 11 sites (4.3%) of 257 carefully selected sites and found only 6 sites (8%) of 75 sites where they had been reported during 1980s and 1990s which could indicate a continuing deterioration in the species status (Taylor & Kirsten 1999). A similar trend of decline has been recorded in New South Wales (NPWS 2003).

Results from the (Taylor & Kirsten 1999) surveys highlight the need for closer examination of sites previously recorded on the Victorian Wildlife Atlas. There are many sites within the South West region that had previous records which were not confirmed in the 1998-1999 survey, raising the possibility that Barking Owls could have been lost from those locations. (See table 1).

Habitat & Ecology

The Barking Owl inhabits open woodlands and forest edge habitats where forests adjoin farmlands, effectively creating an open farmland-woodland mosaic. Use of forest interior habitats is less common; in particular the use of extensive areas of moist forest habitat is uncommon with drier woodlands being the most frequented habitat.

Habitat preference is strongly biased towards areas that provide a high density of large trees greater than 60cm diameter and a high density of hollow trees of a range of sizes, including large hollows greater than 15cm diameter which are suitable nesting places for Barking Owls. Surveys conducted in 1998-1999 found that hollows were two to three times more prolific at sites where Barking Owls were recorded compared to no owl sites. It was also noted that Barking Owl habitat has a strong spatial association with hydrological features such as rivers and wetlands (Taylor & Kirsten 1999).

Table 1

Remaining locations

Approximate locations at which Barking Owls were located (adapted from Taylor & Kirsten 1999).

  • State Forest - Glenelg River, Balmoral area
  • State Forest - Glenelg River, Balmoral area
  • Wash Tomorrow Game Reserve, Toolondo area
  • State Forest - Lake Lonsdale, Stawell area
  • State Forest - Ledcourt, Ledcourt area
  • State Forest - Burnt Creek, Dunolly area
  • State Forest - Burnt Creek, Dunolly area
  • Cobboboonee State Forest, Portland area

Doubtful locations

Approximate areas of Victoria's South West where Atlas records exist but remain unconfirmed as of Taylor & Kirsten's 1999 survey and which are now possibly in doubt.

  • Lower Glenelg N.P.
  • Casterton area
  • Grampians N.P. (northern end)
  • Little Desert N.P.
  • Buangor S.P
  • Avoca area
  • Enfield Forest area
  • Lerderderg S.P. and nearby areas
  • Brisbane Ranges N.P.
  • Eastern end of Otway Range, including (Great Otway N.P.)
  • Carlisle S.P.
  • Western end of Otway Range - Kennedys Creek area

Diet comprises small mammals (rabbit, gliders, rodents), birds, bats, and insects, however information on diet still remains limited and may include other prey. The relationship between occurrence of hollows in trees and Barking Owl habitat also applies to habitat for the production of prey species, some which are also dependent on hollow trees eg. gliders, possums, rosellas, bats etc.

Barking Owls are thought to be sedentary, probably remaining in the same territory all year around and from year to year. They have been observed to hunt reasonably close to their nest site (1-2km), although information on home-range remains unclear and may alter depending on habitat quality.

Barking Owls have a preference for hunting in open woodland/forest edge habitats. Foraging behaviours include short stay perch hunting (changing position after 1 min), hawking (short bursts of erratic flying) and long stay perch hunting. They have been observed hunting in the early evening using short stay perch hunting whilst it is still light, and using long stay perch hunting scanning for prey in the dark. They have varied calls ranging from a wuk-wuk hooting call, a low growling call, a dog-like woof woof call and a human-like scream (Hodgson 1996, Simpson & Day 1996).


Being a top order predator the Barking Owl can be impacted upon by loss of prey species caused through habitat degradation and fragmentation, logging, and firewood harvesting. Loss of suitable hollow-bearing trees has a twofold impact on both nesting sites and habitat for prey species such as birds and small mammals. Retention of vegetation containing hollows is particularly important on the forest-private farmland ecotone.

Fox predation and competition for prey species by foxes and feral cats have been identified as threatening processes in NSW. Feral honey bees invading hollows, secondary poisoning from pesticides and mortality from collision with barbed wire fences and wires have also been identified as potential threats (NPWS 2003).

Decline of non-native prey such as rabbits, which may have filled a prey shortage in areas suffering a reduced diversity of prey, for example sites where habitat has been degraded and native prey has been diminished.

Management Actions

A common theme from both research and natural resource management sectors is the need to improve understanding of this species abundance, distribution and ecological requirements.

The Barking Owl is regarded as a flagship species in NSW; a draft recovery plan for the Barking Owl in NSW has five main objectives;

  1. Increase understanding of the biology, ecology and management of the Barking Owl.
  2. Increase education and awareness of and involvement in the conservation of the Barking Owl and its habitat in NSW.
  3. Undertake threat abatement and mitigation.
  4. Gain efficiencies through links with other conservation plans and conservation groups.
  5. Provide organisational support.

It is also considered that implementation of actions to support the Barking Owl will also have considerable biodiversity benefits across a range of forest and woodland flora & fauna (NPWS 2003).

Management recommendations for Regional Vegetation Management Plans have been developed for NSW, this provides a focus on protecting key habitats utilised by the Barking Owl such as breeding, feeding and roosting areas (NPWS 2003).

In north-eastern Victoria, Natasha Schedvin, Senior Biodiversity Project Officer, DSE, Benalla is currently (in 2010) surveying areas of potential Barking Owl habitat across the north east Catchment. It has been observed that there has been a high rate of decline due to drought, and fire throughout the Mt Pilot area in 2003 (24 pairs down to an estimated 9) which demonstrates how populations can be impacted upon by adverse conditions.

There is a need to clarify the status of Barking Owls in the South West region as well as the rest of Victoria. Sites in the South West (from table1) require detailed survey to ascertain if Barking Owls are still present, observations can be submitted to the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife, also see Record sightings.

Specific Actions from the Victorian DSE, Actions for Biodiversity Conservation database

  • Protect all known Barking Owl sites within the parks and reserves system. In larger parks and reserves, identify Barking Owl Management Areas (BOMAs) with at least 500ha of continuous suitable habitat that can be managed to be free of significant disturbances. In smaller conservation reserves, protect as much suitable habitat as possible and endeavour to obtain co-operative management from adjoining landowners.
  • Planning permit applications (subdivision, native vegetation clearing, mining etc.) will be assessed to evaluate and prevent or minimise loss or deterioration of Barking Owl habitat.
  • All confirmed nesting and roosting sites utilised recently and frequently (based on reliable observation or physical evidence such as pellets or wash) located outside BOMAs will be protected by a 3ha SPZ around the site and a 250-300m radius.
  • Private landowners will be encouraged to protect scattered trees on farmland.
  • Monitor selected pairs of Barking Owls to determine details of habitat use, population trends and site fidelity.
  • Monitor populations to determine success of management actions.
  • Establish BOMAs on public or private land.
  • Avoid the development of intensive recreational facilities near known nesting and roosting trees and discourage public access to breeding areas.
  • Conduct surveys to locate as many resident pairs of Barking Owls as possible across land tenures throughout the main range of the species.
  • Locate all known Barking Owl sites within the parks and reserves system.


  • Hodgon J. (1996) Behaviour and Diet of the Barking Owl Ninox connivens in South-eastern Queensland, Australian Bird Watcher 1996, Vol.16 (8), 332-338.
  • NPWS (2003) Draft Recovery Plan for the Barking Owl. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, NSW.
  • Simpson & Day (1996) Field Guide to the birds of Australia, sixth edition, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
  • Taylor I. R., Kirsten I. (1999) Targeted Barking owl (Ninox connivens) survey for the West Region Comprehensive Regional Assessment, Johnstone Centre Research in Natural Resources & Society Report No. 135, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW.

See also:

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