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A Fascinating Look at the Andaman Masked-Owl: Identification Behavior and Conservation

The Andaman Masked-Owl, also known as Tyto deroepstorffi, is a unique species of owl that is endemic to the Andaman Islands of India. They are known for their distinctive masked appearance and beautiful plumage.

In this article, we will explore the various characteristics of this bird, including its identification, plumages, and molts.


The Andaman Masked-Owl is a medium-sized owl that is typically 33-40 cm in length and has a wingspan of around 100 cm. It has a brown and white facial mask that delineates its facial disc from its crown, giving it a distinctive appearance.

They also have rufous and grey-brown feathers, with scattered white spots and faint vermiculations. They have yellow eyes and a dark beak, which all add to their striking appearance.



The Andaman Masked-Owl is often found in dense forests and usually roosts in cavities or crevices. They are usually difficult to spot in the wild, but their calls make them easier to detect.

The bird’s distinct calls can be heard at night and sound like a deep ‘whoo’. Their calls are mainly used for territorial defense and attracting mates.

Similar Species

One of the most crucial aspects of identifying the Andaman Masked-Owl is being able to distinguish it from other species of owls. The most similar species to the Andaman Masked-Owl is the Oriental Scops-Owl, which is about the same size and has a similar facial disc pattern.

However, it lacks the distinctive brown and white facial mask of the Andaman Masked-Owl.


The Andaman Masked-Owl has two main plumages, the juvenile and adult plumages. Juvenile Plumage: Juvenile Andaman Masked-Owls appear fluffier and have a buff-colored facial disk with indistinct patterning.

They have white underparts with brown streaks and spots, and their wings and upper body are rich brown in color. Adult Plumage: The adult Andaman Masked-Owls have a well-defined brown and white facial disc and browner upper parts, with scattered white spots and faint vermiculations.

They have yellow eyes and a dark bill. Unlike the juvenile plumage, adults have a much clearer and lighter feathering and less white spots.


The Andaman Masked-Owl has a unique molting pattern that begins in August and concludes in January or February. In the molting process, new feathers are generated, and old ones shed to provide insulation against the cold weather.

During plumage replacement, the bird can become vulnerable to predators, and as such, it seeks out dense vegetation to hide in. In conclusion, the Andaman Masked-Owl, with its unique appearance and distinct calls, is an exciting bird species to encounter in the wild.

Its brown and white facial mask sets it apart from other owl species, and this article’s identification tips should help you to identify it better. Understanding its plumages and molts will give you a deeper appreciation for this fascinating bird species and the importance of its conservation.

Systematics History

The Andaman Masked-Owl has undergone several changes in its classification and systematics. In the past, it was placed in the genus Tyto along with other barn owls.

However, recent molecular studies have shown that the Andaman Masked-Owl is distinct from other Tyto species and should be placed in its own genus, Phodilus. This change has been accepted by most taxonomic authorities, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Geographic Variation

The Andaman Masked-Owl is found exclusively in the Andaman Islands of India and has no other known populations. However, there are some differences in morphology and vocalizations observed between the populations on different islands.

This indicates that there may be some geographic variation within the species.


As of now, there are two recognized subspecies of the Andaman Masked-Owl, namely Phodilus deroepstorffi deroepstorffi and Phodilus deroepstorffi lutescens. The subspecies P.

d. deroepstorffi is found on the North and South Andaman Islands, while P.

d. lutescens is restricted to the Middle Andaman Island.

The subspecies P. d.

lutescens is distinguished from P. d.

deroepstorffi by its paler coloration, particularly in the facial mask and upperparts. It also has a higher-pitched call than the P.

d. deroepstorffi subspecies.

Related Species

The Andaman Masked-Owl is part of the family Tytonidae, which includes other barn owls. However, genetic studies indicate that the Andaman Masked-Owl is more closely related to the Australasian Masked-Owl (T.

novaehollandiae) and the Oriental Bay-Owl (Phodilus badius) than to other Tyto species.

Historical Changes in Distribution

The Andaman Masked-Owl has experienced significant changes in its distribution throughout its history. The species was first described by British ornithologist Allan Octavian Hume in the 19th century.

At the time, the species was widely distributed throughout the Andaman Islands. However, the Andaman Masked-Owl’s population size and range have declined significantly since then due to habitat destruction and hunting by humans.

The species’ remaining population is now restricted to a few isolated and fragmented areas of forest on the Andaman Islands, reducing both its habitat and breeding territory. The primary cause of habitat loss is due to deforestation as a result of human settlement and agriculture.

The clearing of forests for agriculture, logging, and infrastructure development have led to significant habitat fragmentation, making it difficult for the Andaman Masked-Owl to find suitable breeding territories. Furthermore, the Andaman Masked-Owl population is also threatened by illegal hunting.

Although hunting is illegal in India, there is still a demand for the owl’s feathers and other parts, primarily for use in traditional medicine and as charms.

Conservation Efforts

The Andaman Masked-Owl is currently classified as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List due to its declining population size. Several conservation efforts have been developed to try and save the species for present and future generations.

One of the most critical conservation efforts involves the legal protection of the Andaman Masked-Owl and its habitat. The Indian government has imposed restrictions on hunting, trapping, and trade of this species, making it illegal to possess any part of the owl or its eggs.

Another conservation effort focuses on the conservation of the Andaman’s forests, which is vital for the owl’s survival. Several organizations and groups are working to preserve and restore the Andaman’s forests by reducing deforestation, promoting forest regeneration, and raising public awareness.

In conclusion, the Andaman Masked-Owl has experienced several changes in its classification, systematics, geographic variation, and distribution throughout history. Despite these changes, the species is currently facing significant threats from habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Conservation efforts must continue to be developed and implemented to ensure the long-term survival of this unique and fascinating bird species.


The Andaman Masked-Owl is a forest-dependent species and is restricted to the dense evergreen forests of the Andaman Islands in India. They inhabit the lowland rainforests, with many populations found in the vicinity of human settlements.

In particular, the species is known to inhabit areas with suitable tree cavities and crevices to facilitate roosting and nesting. The species’ primary habitat is threatened by human activity, including agricultural and urban development that encroaches on the bird’s territory.

Consequently, these developments have resulted in habitat fragmentation and loss, leading to a decline in the Andaman Masked-Owl’s population.

Movements and Migration

The Andaman Masked-Owl is non-migratory, meaning that it stays in the same area throughout the year. These birds have a sedentary lifestyle with no significant movements away from their breeding territories.

However, juvenile Andaman Masked-Owls disperse from their natal territories after they fledge, which is usually from September to December. These dispersals can result in long-distance movements by some of these juveniles in search of new territories to establish their breeding territories.

Interestingly, there is considerable variation in the distance moved away from the natal territory by the juvenile owls. Some travel over long distances, while others choose to establish a breeding territory close to their natal territory.

Overall, the Andaman Masked-Owl’s movements are limited due to the availability of suitable habitat and breeding territories on the Andaman Islands. The limited availability of appropriate habitat has also caused a decline in the species’ population, further reducing its range.

Conservation Efforts

Several conservation efforts have been implemented to help the Andaman Masked-Owl and its habitat. One of the most significant conservation efforts is to identify and protect the species’ critical habitat.

Several organizations and groups work to preserve and restore the Andaman’s forests by reducing deforestation, promoting forest regeneration, and raising public awareness. Furthermore, there are efforts to increase habitat connectivity through reforestation and forest restoration projects.

This promotes the regeneration of degraded habitats that were once home to the Andaman Masked-Owl. These efforts aim to provide suitable habitat to maintain and increase the owl’s population.

Lastly, there are also plans to reduce the impact of human activity on the bird’s habitat. This involves limiting or banning land use practices that destroy the owl’s habitat and removing plastic waste from the forest, which poses a risk to the owl and other wildlife.


The Andaman Masked-Owl is a unique and fascinating bird species that is restricted to the dense forests of the Andaman Islands. The species is a forest-dependent species, with its primary habitat threatened by human activity and habitat loss.

The owl is non-migratory, with juveniles dispersing from their natal territories in search of suitable habitat and breeding territories.

Conservation efforts are crucial to ensuring the survival of this species.

By identifying and conserving critical habitat, increasing habitat connectivity, and reducing the impact of human activity on the species’ habitat, the population of Andaman Masked-Owls can be stabilized and increased.

Diet and Foraging


The Andaman Masked-Owl is a carnivorous species that feeds primarily on small mammals and birds. To hunt these prey, the owl relies on its excellent vision and hearing to locate prey in the dark forest understorey.

The bird’s visual adaptations are unique in that their eyes are designed to detect low levels of light making the bird well-suited for hunting in deep space conditions. With the help of binocular vision and acute depth perception, the owl hones in on prey with laser-like precision.


The primary food source for Andaman Masked-Owl is small mammals, such as rats, shrews, and other rodents, and small birds. However, the owl also feeds on insects, small reptiles, and amphibians.

Its diet is somewhat broad, depending on the availability of prey. Studies have shown that the Andaman Masked-Owl is a dietary generalist, and its diet varies significantly depending on prevailing food conditions.

The availability of rodents, for instance, has a significant impact on the owl’s diet, and when they are scarce, the owl turns to alternative prey sources.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Andaman Masked-Owl, like all birds, has a higher metabolism than mammals. Birds also have an insulating layer of feathers that is different from that found in mammals, which is essential for maintaining their body temperature.

Birds have a unique temperature regulation mechanism known as evaporative cooling, which involves evaporating water from their skin and respiratory tract to reduce their body temperature. This is possible because of the specialized respiratory system that birds have, which allows them to circulate large amounts of air through their airways.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Andaman Masked-Owl is known to be a vocal species, with its calls being used for territorial defense and attracting mates. The bird’s most common call sounds like a deep, clear, and drawn-out ‘whoo.’ However, the pitch and tone of the calls may vary between subspecies.

Furthermore, studies have shown that the Andaman Masked-Owl has a rich and complex vocal repertoire. The calls vary depending on the bird’s sex, age, and social status, making it possible to identify individuals using their calls.

The species is mostly vocal at night, with peak calling activity observed during the breeding season. Vocalizations play a vital role in establishing and maintaining a social hierarchy within the owl’s population.


The Andaman Masked-Owl is a fascinating bird species with unique adaptations for feeding, metabolism, and temperature regulation. Its diet is not restricted to one particular type of prey, but rather it is somewhat broad, depending on food availability.

The bird’s vocal behavior is complex, and its vocalizations vary depending on context, age, sex, and status. By understanding the Andaman Masked-Owl’s vocalization behavior, diet, and foraging techniques, we can learn more about this fascinating and captivating bird species.



The Andaman Masked-Owl has adapted to its forest habitat by being a skilled flier. It has an impressive aerial maneuvering ability, and it uses its wings to fly quickly and precisely through the dense forest.

The owl’s legs are also powerful and are used to grasp prey, tackle pick-ups, and maneuver in tight spaces.

Self Maintenance

The Andaman Masked-Owl is a clean bird and exhibits excellent hygiene. Like most birds, the owl engages in daily preening or grooming activity, where it uses its tongue to spread oil from its preen gland over its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Andaman Masked-Owl is a territorial bird and will defend its breeding territory from intruders aggressively. During periods of conflict, the bird will emit loud, aggressive vocalizations and use physical displays to intimidate its intruders and protect its mate, offspring, and territory.

Sexual Behavior

The Andaman Masked-Owl is a monogamous species, with pairs mating for life. During the breeding season, the pair will constantly communicate, using vocalizations to coordinate breeding activities, such as prospecting, nest-building, and raising their offspring.


The breeding season of the Andaman Masked-Owl falls between January and April each year. The owl’s nest is usually located high in the canopy, and it is constructed in natural or pre-existing hollows in trees.

It is made up of leaves and twigs and may be lined with feathers or other soft material. The female Andaman Masked-Owl typically lays two eggs, and both the male and female share the incubation duties.

Incubation starts immediately after the first egg is laid and lasts for about 30 days. Once the eggs hatch, the owlets are fed regurgitated food by both parents until they fledge.

Demography and Populations

The Andaman Masked-Owl is facing significant challenges to its existence due to population decline caused by habitat degradation and hunting. The species is currently classified as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, indicating a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Several conservation efforts have been implemented to help the Andaman Masked-Owl. These initiatives aim to protect and restore its habitat, promote sustainable living, and educate both the local communities and visitors about the owl and its importance to the ecosystem.

In conclusion, the Andaman Masked-Owl is an adaptable and fascinating bird species found in the dense forests of the Andaman Islands. It exhibits unique behaviors, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic and sexual behavior, and breeding.

The owl’s population size is declining, making rigorous conservation efforts necessary for the species’ survival. The Andaman Masked-Owl is an intriguing bird species found exclusively in the Andaman Islands of India.

This article explored various aspects of this species, including its identification, systematics history, behavior, diet, and foraging techniques, vocalization, breeding, and demography. Despite facing significant threats from habitat loss and illegal hunting, conservation efforts aimed to protect the species and its habitat are bringing hope for its long-term survival.

With continued efforts to protect the Andaman Masked-Owl and its habitat, we have an opportunity to preserve this unique and fascinating bird species for future generations.

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