The Southern Boobook (Ninox novaseelandiae) is sometimes called a mopoke. This name can be confusing, as it is often shared with the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), a similarly sized but unrelated nightbird. In the southwest of Western Australia, the boobook goes by several Noongar names including “kookomit” and “yartj.”
The boobook is the smallest and most common owl species in Australia. There is some disagreement about whether populations in Tasmania and New Zealand may be separate species (Gwee et al., 2017). On the Australian mainland, boobooks have the largest range of any owl in Australia and can be found in all habitats except for treeless deserts where there are no hollows for them to nest. On a few occasions, they have even been found in areas of the Nullabor where they have gotten by without trees by finding suitable hollows in small caves. Boobooks in different habitats can vary dramatically in colour with paler boobooks found in hotter drier climates, and darker-coloured boobooks in wetter parts of the country.
Boobooks are well-adapted to life in the dark. Comb-like fringes on their flight feathers allow them to fly almost silently and to sneak up on their prey. Their excellent hearing and large eyes allow them to hunt in very low light. Like all owls, their eyes are so large that they cannot turn in their sockets. This means that boobooks need to turn their heads if they want to look in a different direction.
Boobooks are generalist predators and will eat a wide variety of prey species. Most of their diet includes rodents like rats and mice, small birds, and a wide variety of large invertebrates including spiders, moths, beetles, crickets, cockroaches, and centipedes. They also occasionally take lizards and bats, and have even been observed hunting frogs. They will sometimes take larger prey as well. Remains of birds as large as Australian Magpies and Red Wattlebirds have been found beneath the roost of one particularly ambitious boobook in the Perth area.
Boobooks are commonly seen in urban and residential areas and their characteristic “boo-book” call can often be heard in the Perth Hills between August and December when they are breeding and nesting. Boobooks usually lay two to four eggs but occasionally they can manage to raise five chicks. Chicks usually leave the nest between October and December. For the first few weeks, their father continues to feed them as they learn to hunt on their own. During this period, they can often be seen roosting in a group in low branches of dense trees and bushes.
Sometimes people mistakenly assume that the boobooks are ill or injured because they are roosting only a few metres off the ground and attempt to take them to wildlife care centres or chase them higher up the tree. Really, these boobooks are just trying to hide from diurnal predators like goshawks and eagles. If you look directly above the roosting boobooks, you will usually notice that the sky above them is completely blocked by the leaves and branches. It’s a great place to hide out while recovering from a long night on the wing.
Download the Case Study – Southern Boobook Owls and Rodenticides information sheet and the Rodenticides and Wildlife information sheet. Please note that these information sheets contain graphic images which may be disturbing to some readers.
Gwee, C. Y., Christidis, L., Eaton, J. A., Norman, J. A., Trainor, C. R., Verbelen, P., & Rheindt, F. E. (2017). Bioacoustic and multi-locus DNA data of Ninox owls support high incidence of extinction and recolonisation on small, low-lying islands across Wallacea. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 109, 246–258. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2016.12.024