Barking Owl Click to enlarge image
Barking Owl Image: Georgie Sharp
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • NSW Conservation Status
    Vulnerable species
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    35 cm to 45 cm
  • Life history mode
Barking Owl
Barking Owl Image: Ken Glasson
© Ken Glasson

The Barking Owl is named for its harsh 'barking' call but can also make a much louder, wailing cry, which has given rise to another name, the 'screaming-woman bird'.


The Barking Owl is a medium-sized hawk-owl. Hawk-owls lack the definite heart-shaped face of the tyto-owls (which include the Barn Owl, Tyto alba). Adult Barking Owls are grey-brown above, with white spots on the wings, and whitish below, heavily streaked with grey-brown. The head is almost entirely grey-brown, and the eyes are large and yellow. Young Barking Owls have less streaking on the underparts and are mottled white and grey-brown on the rear of the neck. Barking Owls are nocturnal birds (night birds), although they may sometimes be seen hunting during the day.


Barking Owls are most common in savannah woodland, although they also inhabit well-forested hill and riverine woodlands. Although moderately common, Barking Owls are more often heard than seen (typical of most nocturnal birds).


Barking Owls are widely distributed throughout Australia, but are absent from central areas

Feeding and diet

The Barking Owl feeds on a variety of small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. Prey is located either from the air or from an exposed perch. Most hunting is performed in the first few hours of the night and the last hours before dawn. Occasionally, birds may even be seen hunting in daylight. The Barking Owl prefers to hunt in clearings, including waterways and other open areas.


The Barking Owl has two main calls, both distinctive and unmistakable. The first is a double-noted, dog-like 'wook-wook', and the second is a wavering human-like scream.

Breeding behaviours

Barking Owls raise a single brood in a season. The nest site is an open hollow in a tree trunk, loosely lined with sticks and other wood debris. The female incubates the eggs, while the male supplies the food. Young Barking Owls remain dependent on their parents for several months, and will remain in the family group until a few months before the next breeding season.

  • Breeding season: August to October
  • Clutch size: 2 to 3
  • Incubation: 28 days
  • Time in nest: 45 days

Conservation status

The Barking Owl is listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales.


  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
  • Strahan, R. (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.