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10 Fascinating Facts About the Abyssinian Owl

The Abyssinian Owl, also known as the African Long-eared Owl, is a medium-sized owl that is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This elusive bird is known for its unique physical characteristics and has become a favorite of bird enthusiasts.


The Abyssinian Owl has a distinctive appearance, with long tufts of feathers on its ears, large yellow-orange eyes, and a dense brownish-grey plumage that is streaked and mottled. These features make it easy to identify this species of owl, even from a distance.

Field Identification:

When identifying the Abyssinian Owl in the wild, bird enthusiasts should look out for its distinctive call which is a deep, booming hoot that can be heard from over a mile away. The owl’s wingspan ranges from 90-105 cm, and its length from the top of the head to the tip of the tail is 36-40 cm, making it a reasonably sized owl.

Similar Species:

The Abyssinian Owl shares its physical appearance with several other owl species, making its identification tricky. The African Wood Owl, which is larger and has an orange iris, can be confused with the Abyssinian Owl.

However, the difference in ear tufts and a less streaked plumage sets them apart. Plumages:

The Abyssinian Owl molts once a year, shedding and replacing old feathers with new ones.

The molting process helps the owl to maintain its physical characteristics, such as the long ear tufts that distinguish it from other birds. The plumage of this species is highly variable, and some individuals will have more white feathers on their underparts, while others will have more brown feathers.


The Abyssinian Owl undergoes a complete molt, shedding all the feathers on its body. This process helps to strengthen the feathers and remove any damage that may have been sustained during the previous year.

In spring, the owl’s feathers will have become worn and frayed, and it will begin to shed them. The process starts from the head and works its way down to the tail.

New feathers start to grow, and by fall, the owl will have replaced all its feathers. In conclusion, the Abyssinian Owl is a unique bird species with distinctive physical characteristics that are easy to identify from a distance.

Its long ear tufts, large yellow-orange eyes, and dense brownish-gray plumage make this species of owl stand out. The molting process helps the Abyssinian Owl to maintain its unique physical characteristics and stay healthy.

Bird enthusiasts can enjoy spotting this elusive bird while listening to its deep booming hoot, which can be heard from miles away. Overall, the Abyssinian Owl is a fascinating species that deserves our appreciation.

Systematics History:

The Abyssinian Owl, scientific name Asio abyssinicus, was first identified in 1849 by the British naturalist David William Mitchell. Initially, it was categorized under the genus Strix but later reassigned to Asio based on genetic studies that highlighted its genetic similarity with other Asio species.

Geographic Variation:

The Abyssinian Owl is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, and its geographic variation is quite limited, with only minor differences in the coloration of its plumage. The owl’s plumage is brownish-grey, with a darker brown color on the wings and back.

However, specimens found in the savannah regions tend to have a more rufous-brown plumage. Subspecies:

There are three recognized subspecies of the Abyssinian Owl, which have slight differences in their physical appearance, range, and habitat:


Asio abyssinicus abyssinicus, found in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan. 2.

Asio abyssinicus cephallenicus, found in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. 3.

Asio abyssinicus heuglini, found in Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Related Species:

The Abyssinian Owl is part of the Strigidae family, which includes over 200 species of owls worldwide.

The Asio genus comprises 8 species of owls, among which the Abyssinian Owl is the most widespread in Africa. The closest relatives to the Abyssinian Owl are the Hume’s Owl and the Desert Owl, both found in the Middle East.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

The distribution of the Abyssinian Owl has remained relatively stable over the years. However, the species has been affected by habitat destruction and fragmentation, leading to declines in some areas.

In South Africa, where the owl’s range is restricted to small patches of remnant forest and scrubland, populations have been declining due to habitat loss. In West Africa, the species is still relatively common, but population trends are difficult to determine due to the paucity of data.

In Ethiopia, the Abyssinian Owl has been successfully reintroduced to the Simien Mountains National Park. The park was once home to a large population of Abyssinian owls, but their numbers declined due to habitat loss and poaching.

In 2016, a successful reintroduction program was initiated, where 20 Abyssinian Owls were translocated from other parts of Ethiopia to the Simien Mountains. Today, the population has grown to around 60 individuals, making it a success story for owl conservation.


The Abyssinian Owl is a remarkable owl species found in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its widespread distribution, the species still faces threats from habitat destruction and fragmentation.

However, efforts such as reintroduction programs have been successful in restoring and conserving populations of this beautiful bird. With continued conservation efforts, the Abyssinian Owl will remain a vital part of Africa’s avifauna.


The Abyssinian Owl is a versatile species that inhabits a range of habitats, including savannahs, open woodlands, and even urban areas. These owls are found across sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania in the west to Ethiopia in the east and south to South Africa.

In general, they prefer areas with tall grasses, shrubs, and trees where they can roost, hunt for prey, and nest. In West Africa, they inhabit a mosaic of woodland, rainforest, and savannah, while in Ethiopia, they are often found in mountainous areas between 1800-4000 meters above sea level.

Studies have shown that the Abyssinian Owl prefers areas with low to moderate human disturbance compared to heavily disturbed areas. Movements and Migration:

The Abyssinian Owl is non-migratory, and individuals tend to stay within their breeding territories throughout the year.

However, some juvenile birds may disperse from their natal territories, wandering across the landscape in search of suitable habitats that are unoccupied. Research has shown that the movements of Abyssinian Owls are largely influenced by prey availability, with birds moving towards areas with high concentrations of rodents and other prey.

They tend to move short distances, with most individuals staying within a 10-20 km radius of their breeding territories. In South Africa, where their populations are fragmented due to habitat loss, behavioral studies have shown that the owls require open areas to hunt in and forested areas to roost and breed.

Their movements are also influenced by the availability of suitable habitats, and they may move between patches of forest in search of prey or to establish territories. In Ethiopia, a study on the Abyssinian Owl’s foraging ecology found that the species feeds mainly on rodents but will also take small birds, insects, and reptiles.

The owls tend to hunt by perching on exposed branches and scanning the surrounding area for prey. Once prey is located, the owls fly down to the ground to capture it before returning to their perches to consume it.


The Abyssinian Owl is a sedentary species that prefers to stay within its breeding territories throughout the year. However, their movements are influenced by prey availability, habitat quality, and fragmentation, with individuals moving short distances.

Their versatile habitat requirements and ability to adjust to anthropogenic landscapes make them a valuable asset for pest control in urban and agricultural areas. Further research on their movements and habitat requirements will provide a better understanding of how to conserve this species, particularly in areas facing habitat loss and fragmentation.

Diet and Foraging:

The Abyssinian Owl is a generalized predator that feeds on a variety of prey, mainly small mammals such as rodents but also insects, birds, and reptiles. It is a nocturnal predator, using its sharp vision and hearing to locate prey in the dark.

The owl’s diet and foraging behavior varies depending on the type of habitat it occupies. Feeding:

The Abyssinian Owl is an ambush predator, perching on a branch and waiting for prey to appear in its sight.

Once it spots prey, the owl flies out to capture it using its sharp talons and beak. The owl’s hunting success rate varies by habitat, with higher success rates in habitats like savannahs and open woodlands, where prey are more abundant.


Studies have shown that the Abyssinian Owl’s diet varies depending on the availability of prey. In some areas, rodents make up the majority of their diet, while in other areas, insects and reptiles are a significant part of their diet.

The owl’s diet also varies seasonally, with more insects and reptiles consumed during the wet season when they are more abundant. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Abyssinian Owl has a unique metabolism and temperature regulation system that allows it to adapt to its nocturnal lifestyle.

The owl’s metabolic rate decreases at night, allowing it to conserve energy while resting during the day. Additionally, the owl has a high concentration of hemoglobin in its blood, which allows it to transport and store oxygen efficiently, enabling it to hunt and fly efficiently in low light conditions.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:

The Abyssinian Owl has a deep, booming hoot that is distinctive and easily recognizable. The call can vary in length and pitch, depending on the owl’s location and mood.

The male owl’s call is generally louder and more prolonged than the female’s, and both sexes may call in duet during the breeding season. Vocalization:

The Abyssinian Owl’s vocalization is an essential aspect of its behavior and is used to communicate with other owls and defend its territory.

The owl’s call has distinct rhythms that can be used to differentiate between individual owls, providing a mechanism for social signaling and recognition. Research has shown that the Abyssinian Owl’s call may also have a function in prey localization and communication with potential mates.

The owl’s keen sense of hearing allows it to pinpoint the location of prey based on the sounds they make, and the owl’s call may help to attract prey by mimicking the calls of potential prey. Conclusion:

The Abyssinian Owl is a versatile predator with a unique metabolism and temperature regulation system that allows it to adapt to its nocturnal lifestyle.

Its diet and foraging behavior vary depending on the type of habitat it inhabits, and its deep, booming hoot is distinctive and recognizable. The owl’s vocalization is an essential aspect of its behavior and is used to communicate with other owls, locate prey, and attract potential mates.

Further research on the Abyssinian Owl’s vocal behavior and foraging ecology will provide valuable insights into the species’ conservation and management in the face of habitat loss and fragmentation. Behavior:

The Abyssinian Owl is a solitary and nocturnal bird, with a wide range of behaviors that enable it to thrive in various habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.

The owl’s locomotion is well adapted for its hunting behavior, which involves perching and swooping down on prey. Its self-maintenance behavior includes preening, bathing, and roosting, which are essential for its survival and reproduction.


The Abyssinian Owl has a powered flight, flapping its wings to reach high speeds, and glides to cover long distances in search of prey. The owl’s silent flight is achieved through the arrangement of its feathers, which reduces noise emissions, allowing it to stalk prey without detection.

On land, the owl has a hop-and-flap gait, moving around by jumping and flapping its wings. Self-Maintenance:

The Abyssinian Owl spends a considerable amount of time preening, bathing, and roosting to protect its feathers from damage and maintain its body temperature.

The owl will preen its feathers, removing dirt, and disentangling strands to maintain their insulating properties. Bathing involves dipping its feathers into water to clean them thoroughly, and roosting is done in areas protected from harsh weather and predators.

Agonistic Behavior:

Like most nocturnal birds, the Abyssinian Owl is a solitary bird, engaging in aggressive behavior only towards competitors and predators. Agonistic behavior includes vocalization, display postures, and physical encounters.

The owl will use its deep booming hoot to communicate dominance or territorial boundaries, while physical encounters involve grappling and biting. Sexual Behavior:

During the breeding season, the Abyssinian Owl will engage in sexual behavior that involves courtship display, territory defense, and parental care.

The male owl will attract a female by calling and displaying in his territory. Once a pair has bonded, the male will defend the territory against intruders and predators while the female lays eggs and incubates them.


The Abyssinian Owl breeds between May and December in East Africa and from August to February in West Africa. The female lays two to three round, white eggs in a tree cavity or an old bird’s nest, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs.

The incubation period lasts around 30 days, and once hatched, the young owls will spend the next six to eight weeks being fed by their parents before they are ready to fledge. Demography and Populations:

The Abyssinian Owl has a relatively stable population, with populations estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands across sub-Saharan Africa.

However, localized populations of the owl are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and degradation of their habitats resulting from human activities. In South Africa, populations are declining due to habitat fragmentation and human persecution.


The Abyssinian Owl has a range of behaviors that allow it to adapt to different habitats and perform essential functions such as hunting, self-maintenance, and reproduction. The owl’s behavior varies depending on its life stage, with sexual behavior and breeding being a crucial aspect of its life cycle.

Despite a relatively stable population, localized populations of the owl are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, making conservation efforts essential to protecting this iconic owl species for future generations. The Abyssinian Owl is a remarkable owl species that has captured the imagination of people for centuries with its unique physical characteristics, behaviors, and vocalizations.

This article has explored various aspects of the Abyssinian Owl, including its identification, plumage, geographic variation, habitat, diet, foraging behavior, vocalization, sexual behavior, breeding, and population demography. By understanding these aspects, researchers and conservationists can design effective conservation strategies to address the challenges facing the conservation of the species.

The Abyssinian Owl’s adaptability to anthropogenic landscapes and its versatile habitat requirements make it a valuable asset for pest control in urban and agricultural areas, further emphasizing the need for its conservation and management.

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