|African Grass Owl|
Tyto capensis capensis
There are two subspecies of African grass owl currently recognised:
- Tyto capensis cameroonensis: Cameroon Highlands.
- Tyto capensis capensis: The rest of the range.
The African grass owl resembles the barn owl and has a heart shaped whitish-cream facial disc, with a narrow yellowish-buff rim which is densely spotted dark. The eyes are brownish-black, and the bill is whitish to pale pink. The entire upperparts from the crown to the lower back and wing-coverts are a uniform sooty blackish-brown, with scattered small white spots and greyish flecks. The primary feathers and secondary feathers are pale brownish-grey with dark bars and yellow bases. The short tail has uniform brown central feathers fading to paler, almost white, outer feathers which show about four dark bars. The underparts vary in colour from whitish to buff marked with dark spots. The legs have whitish feathers which extend to the lower third of the tarsi. The lower leg and feet are slightly bristled and coloured pale yellowish-grey. The body length is 38–42 cm (15–17 in), the wing length 283–345 mm (11.1–13.6 in) and they weigh between 355 and 520 g (12.5 and 18.3 oz).
They have a screeching call which is similar to that of the barn owl, but it is less strident. A high-pitched sibilant tremolo lasting one to two seconds is thought to be the song of the male.
The African grass owl is native to Sub-Saharan Africa where there are two blocks of its main range, one in central southern Africa across southern Republic of the Congo and northern Angola to the central coast of Mozambique and the other centered on South Africa from the Western Cape north to the southern extremities of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. There are isolated populations in the Ethiopian Highlands, Kenya and Uganda and Cameroon.
The African grass owl is found in moist grassland and open savanna up to an elevation of 3,200 m (10,500 ft). In east Africa it may also be found in dry grassland and at higher altitudes in Aberdares and on Mount Kenya. In southern Africa this species generally prefers marshes and vleis where there are patches of tall, rank grass and other vegetation but it may also be found in fynbos, renosterveld and acacia scrub close to water.
The African grass owl is nocturnal and is rarely seen flying during the day. It roosts during the day on the ground in tall, rank grass where it creates domed platforms and tunnels by trampling down the surrounding grass. These tunnels can be several metres long and connect with other tunnels. The domed platform created at the end of a tunnel serves as either the nest or daytime roost site. Pairs of owls frequently roost together and occasionally small groups of owls may roost quite close to each other. It becomes active after sunset and hunts during the night, only if prey is scarce, will they fly during the early morning or late afternoon.
The preferred prey of the African grass owl are rodents and other small mammals normally weighing less than 100 g (3.5 oz) and taken from the ground. It normally hunts in a erratic flight close to the ground, listening and watching for prey, but will also "sit and wait" hunt from a perch. When the owl locates prey it dives to the ground and picks it up with its talons, feeding on the ground or taking the prey on a nearby perch. In southern Africa recorded prey items include Duthie's golden mole (Chlorotalpa duthiae), African marsh rat (Dasymus incomtus), cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis), vlei rats (Otomys sp.), multimammate mice (Mastomys sp.), Southern African hedgehog Atelerix frontalis, elephant shrews, hares and bats.
The African grass owl is evaluated as Least Concern. However, in South Africa the species is regarded as vulnerable because habitat degradation through ploughing, grazing, draining and burning; the population in the country is considered to be fewer than 5,000 individuals.