The African marsh owl or simply the marsh owl (Asio capensis) is a medium-sized eared-owl of the family Strigidae. Easily identifiable by its buff to dark brown plumage, a pale, heart-shaped facial disk, and tiny ear tufts, the marsh owl is an inhabitant of open areas such as marshlands, moist grasslands, open savannahs, moors, and the like. Morphologically and ecologically, the marsh owl is quite similar to the short-eared owl of the order Strigiformes, family Strigidae, and genus Asio.
The marsh owl is found in Africa and Madagascar but has a fragmented distribution within its range. It has three subspecies. Out of them, Asio capensis tingitanus is widespread in northwestern Morocco, and Asio capensis hova is a resident of Madagascar. Asio capensis capensis has a more extensive distribution covering patches of western Africa from Senegal to Cameroon and Chad, the Ethiopian Highlands, South Sudan, southern Congo and DR Congo, northern Botswana, Namibia, and much of South Africa. The birds are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet that includes small birds and insects to medium-sized mammals. The marsh owl is active at night and during twilight but often hunts for food during the day. The species as a whole is evaluated as Least Concern.
There's more to these amazing creatures of the night. Read on to find out!
The African marsh owl (A. capensis) of the family Strigidae is a species of eared-owl. It is a medium-sized bird with dark brown and buff plumage, a distinct buff-colored facial disk, and tiny ear tufts typical of the family of eared-owls.
The marsh owl belongs to the class of birds.
The global population size of the marsh owl birds is not available. However, the species has a stable population trend as per assessments by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The distribution range of the marsh owl is limited to Africa and Madagascar. While the subspecies A. c. tingitanus is resident in northwestern Morocco, A. c. hova is found in Madagascar. On the other hand, the subspecies A. c. capensis has a distribution range encompassing isolated regions of western Africa from Senegal to Cameroon and Chad. Also included within its range are the areas from the Ethiopian Highlands, South Sudan, southern Congo, and DR Congo to northern Botswana, Namibia, and much of South Africa south of the Cape.
The typical habitat of the marsh owl is mainly open areas such as marshes, damp coastal grasslands, montane grasslands, sedges, reeds, Acacia woodlands, lightly wooded savannahs, mangroves, and even rice fields. The species usually avoids dense forests, rocky landscapes, and desert habitats. The birds are known to select their habitat mainly based on water levels and seasonal fluctuations of rainfall.
The territorial nature of the owls leads the male birds to claim breeding territory by circling over it, accompanied by croaking and clapping of wings. The nest is mainly a depression on the ground, usually amidst weeds or long grass. This ground nest is pretty unique in having an entrance tunnel from the side, which is usually made of grass. Even though the nest is well-hidden among weeds and grass, it is further lined with dry leaves and often protected by a vegetation canopy.
The marsh owl is quite a territorial species. During the non-breeding season, the birds mainly roost in groups comprising 15-30 individuals, and the numbers may sometimes go up to 100. Besides, the birds are known to nest in loose colonies, with the hunting territories of neighboring pairs often overlapping.
The lifespan estimate of the African marsh owl is not available. The longest any eared-owl has lived is the long-eared owl (Asio otus), the oldest of which lived for about 27 years and nine months.
The breeding season of the marsh owl varies according to its range. For instance, the population in northern Africa breeds between February and October, with peaks in March and those in southwestern Africa mainly during September-November.
Post breeding, the female of the species usually lays two to three, or at most six eggs. The female alone incubates the eggs for 27-28 days, and during this time, the male hunts and takes care of the female's nutritional needs. Caching food is common during this period. After the 27-28 days incubation period, the eggs hatch, and the owlets emerge. A juvenile marsh owl opens its eyes about seven days after birth and stays in its parents' nest for 14-18 days, after which they disperse into the surrounding vegetation. During this time, the parents locate their babies by their trampling movements and calls. The young owls fledge in about 35 days, with parents taking care of them until they are fully independent.
As per the IUCN Red List, the marsh owl is a species of Least Concern with a stable population trend.
The marsh owl is a largely brown owl of moderate size with a round head and small, almost inconspicuous ear tufts. Unlike the short-eared owl that has a streaked plumage, the marsh owl wings and body are mostly plain. While the outer primaries have buff patches, the secondaries are dark with buff edges. The tail has a white terminal band and is barred dark brown, buff, and white. The underparts are dark brown and barred. The facial disk on the head is buff, except for the dark brown areas around the eyes. The bill is grayish with a black tip, and the legs and toes are covered in pale feathers. The talons are also blackish. Male and female owls look similar, except the latter is larger and darker.
The round head and the prominent disk outlining the face make the marsh owls look quite adorable. Moreover, the dark and piercing eyes lend the birds a somewhat wise demeanor.
The typical marsh owl sound is a hoarse croak repeated at intervals and given out when the owls are courting, are flushed, circling overhead, or on the ground. The female African marsh owl calls are softer and higher-pitched compared to that of the males.
A marsh owl can reach a length of 12.2-15 in (31-38 cm) with a tail length of 5.2-7.3 in (13.2-18.5 cm). The length of the wings is between 11.2-15 in (28.4-38 cm), and the wingspan is around 32.3-39 in (82-99 cm). In terms of length and wingspan, the marsh owl is almost the same size as the barn owl and slightly smaller than the tawny owl.
The exact flight speed of the marsh owl is not available. However, the flight capabilities of the owl are pretty well-developed, as evident from its preying habits. The owl flies close to the ground in search of prey. Its flight is a spectacular mix of slow and powerful wingbeats interrupted with hovering and fast swerves before it swoops down on its prey.
An adult male marsh owl weighs between 7.8-12.4 oz (221-351.5 g). Females are larger and weigh about 10-13.8 oz (283.5-391 g).
Male and female owls do not have distinct names.
Like all owls, baby marsh owls would be called owlets.
The marsh owl feeding regime is pretty diverse since it ends up hunting a wide variety of animals, from insects to small vertebrates. Animals like bats, mice, rats, voles, shrews, polecats, and young hares are common prey. Besides, the owl also hunts small birds, lizards, frogs, scorpions, grasshoppers, beetles, and termites. Hunting is done while flying low to the ground, standing on perches when available, or simply standing.
The marsh owl is not known to be dangerous. Being a territorial creature, it may attack intruders in defense.
Although popular culture has glorified owls as friendly and affectionate pets, the reality is quite different. Above all, owls are wild creatures with specific habitat requirements and are not suited for a domestic environment. Likewise, the marsh owl would not make a good pet.
Kidadl Advisory: All pets should only be bought from a reputable source. It is recommended that as a potential pet owner you carry out your own research prior to deciding on your pet of choice. Being a pet owner is very rewarding but it also involves commitment, time and money. Ensure that your pet choice complies with the legislation in your state and/or country. You must never take animals from the wild or disturb their habitat. Please check that the pet you are considering buying is not an endangered species, or listed on the CITES list, and has not been taken from the wild for the pet trade.
A marsh owl fledgling becomes fully feathered by the time it is 70 days old.
The IUCN Red List does not categorize the marsh owl as an Endangered species. However, the owls face significant threats from various human activities that could potentially lead to habitat loss and degradation.
The marsh owl is known to be a partial migrator wandering away from some of its residential areas during the wet season or when its habitat is destroyed by drought or fires. Vagrants have been reported from Portugal, Spain, and the Canary Islands.
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