Birds of the Redlands - Greater Sooty Owl

Photo: Darren Bellerby

Scientific name: Tyto tenetricosa

Other names: Sooty Owl


  • Queensland: Least concern (Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006)

What do they look like?

The sooty owl is a medium-size owl averaging 45cm. Contrary to other owl species where the male owl is bigger in size, the female sooty owl is slightly larger than the male.

This owl gets its name from its characteristic sooty colour. The upper parts of the bird are sooty-black with fine white spots on the head. The underbelly is greyish-brown, paler towards the belly with small spots and mottling.

Sooty owls have large black eyes and a prominent flat, heart-shaped facial disc, which is sooty-black through to dark-grey or silver colour and has a heavily edged black rim. Their tail is very short and they have feathered legs. The toes are dark grey with large black talons. The bill is feather-covered almost to the tip.

A powerful hunter, the sooty owl is a predator which preys on almost all tree and surface-dwelling small mammals. Tree-dwelling species such as gliders and ring-tailed possums comprise a large part of the sooty owl diet.

Where do they live?

In Australia, the sooty owl lives in the area from the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne to the Conondale Range north of Brisbane. This owl prefers deep, wet eucalyptus gully forests and only ventures out to drier forests when hunting.

Sooty owls are strictly nocturnal and hide during the daytime in the darkest and most secluded or sheltered positions in the forest – crevices, hollow tree trunks and dense foliage in tall trees and caves.

The sooty owl is a monogamous bird that forms life-long pairs. Egg-laying occurs between January to June. Nests are typically large hollows in living trees. The incubation lasts 6 weeks and the nesting period around three months. The female cares for the eggs and the chicks; however both male and the female provide food from the late nestling stage until the young fly the nest.

What is threatening them

  • Habitat clearing and fragmentation
  • Use of open forest for agricultural grazing and human activities
  • Prey species often leave areas that are disturbed reducing food availability
  • Tree logging.


The greater sooty owl is protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. It is an offence to damage or interfere with the greater sooty owl in any other way than when accepted by the Act.

Redland City Council manages environmental pests throughout the Redlands to minimise their impact on native ecosystems and birds such as the greater sooty owl.

Did you know...?

Sooty owls have a piercing shriek lasting about two seconds and known as the 'bomb whistle'. This bird’s lifespan is between 15 to 20 years; however motor vehicle collisions cause premature owl mortality.

These birds can be distinguished from lesser sooty owls by their larger size, darker plumage and lesser quantity of spots.

How you can help

Do not disturb known nesting sites or roosting sites during the day. If you have seen or suspect the greater sooty owl at any location, please report it to IndigiScapes on  (07) 3824 8611.