Australian Animals
and Birds

Some True Facts
about the

- Boobook Owl -

When choosing a kind of owl to draw in the pictures for a book, what could be more suitable than a Boobook Owl?

These are the smallest and most common owls in Australia. Like their other owl relatives, they feed on small mammals (like mice), small birds, frogs and lizards, but they also eat a lot of insects.

Also like other owls, they are mainly active at night, and are one of the first nocturnal animals you can hear after it gets dark. As you may have guessed, their name sounds like one of their calls. (Writers call it onomatopoeia when you use words that sound like the thing you're writing about. Buzz, plop, hiss are other examples of onomatopoeic words. Can you think of others?)

It is hard for them to see at night, and their eyes have to make sure that as much light as possible reaches the sensitive area, the retina, at the back of each eye-ball. The coloured part of the eye is a ring of muscle, called the iris, and the black part, the pupil, is really a hole in the middle of the iris. At night, an owl's eyes appear to get bigger as the iris muscles make the pupil larger to let in the most light. In the daytime the pupil will be closed so that the same amount of light still falls on the retina for the owl to see clearly. (Our eyes work the same way. If you look in a mirror in bright daytime, then close your eyes and put your hands over them to make them think it's really dark, count to 200, then open them quickly, you will see that in the dark your pupils will have got bigger, and you can watch the iris in each eye closing the hole size in the light. You'll have to look carefully because your iris muscles work very fast.)

To help them catch their prey, owls have very soft feathers on their wings so that they can't be heard when they are flying. To make them soft, the edges of the wings are separated into little 'hairy' strands.

Owls depend on their hearing to find their meals. Did you know that one ear of an owl is higher on their head than the one on the other side?

Owls also have funny toes. They can reverse one of them so that they can either have 3 in front and 1 behind (like most birds), or two pointing forwards and two backwards.

Boobook Owls are found all round Australia, from forests to desert regions, but need hollows in trees to nest. People should always realize that, in the environment, dead trees are as valuable as living ones, and they should be left for homes for wildlife.