Common Name Tasmanian Spotted Owl
Range New Zealand and Tasmania.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Strigiformes
Family Strigidae
Genus Ninox
Species Ninox novaeseelandiae
Conservation Status
Least Concern

The Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), also called the Tasmanian spotted owl, is a small species of boobook found throughout New Zealand and Tasmania.


Two subspecies, the Lord Howe boobook and the Norfolk Island boobook, became extinct during the 20th century.

Janette Norman and colleagues tested the cytochrome b DNA of three subspecies (as well as the powerful and rufous owls) to ascertain whether the closest relative was used in breeding with the last surviving female of the Norfolk boobook. They discovered that although the Norfolk boobook was similar in plumage to the Tasmanian boobook, that it was genetically much closer to the New Zealand subspecies. In fact, the two were so close genetically that they considered whether the Norfolk boobook should be recognised as a separate taxon at all, although they conceded the two were easily distinguishable in appearance and so maintained the three as subspecies; the Tasmanian boobook only diverged by 2.7% from the other two, while the powerful and rufous owls diverged by 4.4% from each other. Leading from this, the southern boobook was split from the Tasmanian boobook and morepork in volume 5 of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, however several authors, including Les Christidis and Walter Boles, contested that the data had been misinterpreted from the Norman study, which hadn't sampled any Australian mainland boobooks at all. They treated the three taxa (southern, Tasmanian boobooks and moreporks) as a single species.

Examining both morphological and genetic (cytochrome b) characters, Michael Wink and colleagues concluded that the southern boobook was distinct from the morepork, as was the Tasmanian boobook, which should be raised to species status as Ninox leucopsis.

The bird has almost 20 alternative common names, including mopoke, boobook and ruru – many of these names are onomatopoeic, as they emulate the bird's distinctive two-pitched call.


It occurs in most habitats with trees, ranging from deep tropical forests to isolated stands at the edges of arid zones, farmland, alpine grasslands or urban areas, but is most common in temperate woodland. They are usually seen singly, in pairs, or in small family groups of an adult pair and up to three young.

Hunting Habits

During the day, moreporks sleep in roosts. Although mainly nocturnal, they are sometimes active at dawn and dusk. The main hunting times are evenings and mornings, with brief bursts of activity through the night. On dark nights they often perch through the middle hours and, particularly if the weather is bad, may hunt by daylight instead. Although their main hunting technique is perch-and-pounce, they are agile birds with a swift, goshawk-like wing action and the ability to manoeuvre rapidly when pursuing prey or hawking for insects.

They hunt a variety of animals – mainly large invertebrates including scarab and huhu beetles, moths and caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers and, in New Zealand, wetas. They also take almost any suitably sized prey, particularly small birds, rats and mice. They can find suitable food in pine forests as well as native forest.

In Fiction

In the Discworld novels, the main city is called Ankh-Morpork and has moreporks on its coat-of-arms. Terry Pratchett had not heard of the bird when he came up with the name but retroactively associated the name with the bird in later books.

"Morepork" by Ngaio Marsh (Short story contained in Alleyn and Others by Ngaio Marsh, edited by Douglas G. Greene, ISBN 978-1558820289)

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