Family Barn-owls (Tytonidae)

Least Concern

Australian Masked-owl (Tyto novaehollandiae)


French: Effraie masquée German: Neuhollandeule Spanish: Lechuza australiana
Other common names: Lesser Masked-owl (sororcula, with cayelii)

St[rix]? Novæ Hollandiæ


, 1826,

New South Wales, Australia


Closely related to T. aurantia, T. almae, T. nigrobrunnea and T. inexspectata. In recent decades, race castanops sometimes treated as a separate species#R#R#R, and recent molecular analysis suggests that this is appropriate#R; further evidence (e.g. morphological, vocal and genetic) is needed, however. Meanwhile, size and colour variation within S Australian populations support inclusion within present species, at subspecific level. In addition, forms sororcula and manusi, previously treated as two separate species, recently found to be better treated as races of present species#R; further, has been suggested that New Guinea population calabyi is approaching species level, but again differences seem not to be sufficiently marked, and this taxon recently found#R to be more closely related to cayelii, which was previously treated as a race of sororcula when latter given full species status. Race galei sometimes merged with kimberli, as observed differences may not be constant and few specimens have been used in analyses. Birds of SW Western Australia may merit separation as a distinct race owing to significantly larger size, but more study needed; formerly separated in race perplexa. Cave-dwelling population of South Australia described as troughtoni; may be worthy of subspecific treatment, but remains very poorly known. Nine subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. n. cayelii (E. J. O. Hartert, 1900) – Buru.
  • T. n. sororcula (P. L. Sclater, 1883) – Moluccan Masked-owl – Tanimbar Is (Larat, Yamdena).
  • T. n. calabyi Mason, 1983 – New Guinea Masked-owl – S New Guinea (S Trans-Fly region from Merauke area to Tarara and Daru I).
  • T. n. manusi Rothschild & E. J. O. Hartert, 1914 – Manus Masked-owl – Manus I, in Admiralty Is.
  • T. n. melvillensis Mathews, 1912 – Melville I and Bathurst I (N Northern Territory), in N Australia.
  • T. n. galei Mathews, 1914 – NE Cape York Peninsula from Pascoe R to Chester R (NE Queensland), in NE Australia.
  • T. n. kimberli Mathews, 1912 – N Australia from Yampi Peninsula (N Western Australia) E to S Cape York Peninsula and Atherton Tablelands (N Queensland).
  • T. n. novaehollandiae (Stephens, 1826) – Australian Masked-owl – SW Western Australia E to Victoria, thence N to NE Queensland (Townsville), mainly in discontinuous and coastal distribution, but also scattered inland records (mostly from E Australia).
  • T. n. castanops (Gould, 1837) – Tasmanian Masked-owl – Tasmania and Maria I; also Maatsuyker I, where perhaps only vagrant.
  • Introduced (castanops) to Lord Howe I.

    Descriptive notes

    Australian races: male 33–42 cm, 420–800 g; female 38–47 cm, 545–1260 g. Occurs in dark and light colour morphs, with variation within each, and with... read more


    Various calls, mostly associated with breeding, include cackles, chatters, shrieks, rasps, squeals... read more


    Usually associated with tall open forest dominated by big trees suitable for nesting and roosting;... read more

    Food and feeding

    As for T. tenebricosa, wide size range of prey from large possums to mice. Includes possums (Trichosurus, ... read more


    May breed at any time of year; most eggs laid Mar–Jul, N birds earlier, Tasmanian birds later. Apparently territorial, pair-members... read more


    Sedentary. Only movements may be post-breeding dispersal of juveniles, and opportunistic... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Breeding pairs found at 1–10 km intervals, and in N Queensland 5 pairs within 30 km; recent surveys in SE Australia... read more

    Recommended citation

    Bruce, M.D. & Marks, J.S. (2019). Australian Masked-owl (Tyto novaehollandiae). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 6 December 2019).