Family Typical Owls (Strigidae)


Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies)


French: Ninoxe rieuse German: Lachkauz Spanish: Nínox reidor
Other common names: White-faced Owl, Whekau

Athene albifacies

G. R. Gray

, 1845,

Waikouaiti, South Island, New Zealand


Monotypic genus, possibly closest to Uroglaux and Ninox. Geographical variation questionable, and size differences perhaps clinal; rufifacies sometimes synonymized with albifacies. Two subspecies tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. a. rufifacies Buller, 1904 – North I (mainly S half), New Zealand.
  • S. a. albifacies#R (G. R. Gray, 1845) – South I and Stewart I; bones known from Chatham Is.
  • Formerly common and widespread; decline noted in first decades of 19th century and accelerating from c. 1880, this coinciding with settlement by Europeans. Last specimen from North I collected in 1889, with unconfirmed reports until 1930s, and last of albifacies dated 1914, with unconfirmed reports until 1960s#R#R. Occasional reports from Stewart I (1970s) and South I (1980s) not subsequently confirmed. Although causes of extinction not known, habitat modification brought about by grazing or burning a distinct possibility, and predation by introduced mammals also likely to have been involved#R.

    Descriptive notes

    38–47 cm; c. 600 g. Medium-sized terrestrial owl with broad head, short wings, long tail and long legs. Forehead, sides of head and throat greyish-white with black... read more


    Main call a loud, repeated “coo-ee” or “kee-wee”; laughing call prolonged “cack-cack-cack”.   read more


    Rocky valleys and cliffs in open country and temperate woodland; also scrub and forest edge.

    Food and feeding

    Earthworms (Lumbricidae), insects, and small vertebrates such as birds, bats, rodents, frogs and lizards. Thought to have hunted mainly on... read more


    Little known. Laying late Aug–Oct. Nest in dry crevice among rocks or under boulders, cavity sometimes lined with dry grass, sedges,... read more


    Unknown; thought to be resident.

    Status and conservation

    EXTINCT. Once common and widespread. Decline, rapid after c. 1880 but first noticed in 1840s, coincided with settlement by Europeans, and was probably brought about by... read more

    Recommended citation

    Olsen, P.D. (2019). Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies). 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 24 June 2019).