I think that both birds are Eastern Barn Owls. However, this is not an easy
chapter of bird ID - so I may be wrong.
I believe that the plumage of the Cairns Esplanade bird doesn't rule out
Barn Owl. In addition, although there admittedly is not much to see of them in
the photos, the feet appear to be "normal" sized, whereas in Masked Owl they
should be ridiculously huge. The latter is another difficult chapter, since the
northern populations of Masked Owl are smaller than the southern populations.
Finally, the habitat doesn't really fit Masked Owl.
Also the Hasties bird looks like an Eastern Barn Owl to me. This bird is too
large-eyed, round-faced and short-legged for an Eastern Grass Owl.
Hope that doesn't disappoint you too much. Let's see what others will say.
----- Original Message ----
From: Richard Nowotny <>
To: Birding Aus <>
Cc: Jason Estep <>
Sent: Sat, December 11, 2010 11:30:25 PM
Subject: FW: Owl photos from Cairns area
Jason Estep is an American birder who saw, and photographed, two Tyto owls
while in FNQ. Jason's email regarding these owls is below and his photos are
attached (if you do not receive the attachments, or cannot open them, please
reply to me and I will forward them on to you).
Would any owl aficionados care to offer an opinion as to which species these
two owls are? (Jason has asked that he be included in any correspondence -
he is now back at home in Ohio [in 10 below freezing temperatures] and is
not on the Birding-aus mailing list.)
Regards. Richard Nowotny (in Melbourne).
From: Jason Estep
Sent: Monday, 6 December 2010 12:37 AM
Subject: Owl photos from Cairns area
These are photos of two different owls that I saw while in the Cairns area.
F..., I met you on the Esplanade and showed you the tree this Esplanade owl
was perched in next to the cannon.
Feel free to pass this email on to as many people as you would like.
The Cairns esplanade owl was seen on 8 Oct 2010 perched high in a tree
facing the ocean.
The Hasties Swamp owl was seen on 18 Oct 2010. It was perched in the road
that goes to the bird hide at the swamp. The habitat here was a huge area of
farmland / grassland. During the day time this area was hosting large
numbers of Whistling Kites & Black Kites.
Please read my comments (below) on these photos after looking at them and
deciding for yourself what you think the birds might be. I am trying not to
bias anyone with the markings that I am looking at.
I would draw attention to the following markings on each owl.
Carins esplanade owl:
1. The overall thickness of the facial disc.
2. The buff breast band.
3. The dark line down the "muzzle" of the bird.
4. The amount of contrast between the white spots on the wing and the
overall color of the wing. It would appear that this bird is moderately dark
(neither light nor dark) in color from that contrast.
If I were to make a call on what I think the bird is, I would say it
strongly resembles the drawing of the male Masked Owl found in the Simpson
and Day "Birds of Australia" 7th edition. The race in the field guide is
novaehollandiae which is the race that would occur in the Cairns area or
anywhere along the east coast south of Cairns if this bird could be a
Looking at Pizzey & Knight, I would be very reluctant to try and make a call
on this bird at all although I would still lean towards male Masked Owl from
that guide also.
Hasties Swamp Owl:
1. Left wing is drooping and appears to be touching the ground. The right
wing is not touching the ground. This does not give the bird a "long legged"
appearance, but I am not sure how valid that observation is on a standing
bird. If the bird were in flight and the legs appeared this short, I would
promptly rule out Grass Owl.
2. The buff wash on the face.
3. The darkness of the wing with the strongly contrasting gold areas that
are much lighter.
4. THe amount of dark spotting on the breast and all the way up the neck,
following the contour of the facial disc.
Based on Simpson and Day, I would call this bird a female Grass Owl. I think
it is a dead ringer for this drawing except that the bird lacks the buff
wash on the chest.
If I look at Pizzey & Knight, I would again hesitate to call this bird
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