Boobooks in Australia

Subject: Boobooks in Australia
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2012 16:42:23 +1000
John Penhallurick wrote:

"This was one of the most ridiculous splits in Koenig and Weick's 2nd edn of the Owls of the World. The race lurida responds readily to vocalisations of Southern Boobook." John, I think everyone of us who lives in the Wet Tropics and knows both Boobooks well would completely disagree with that statement. They were split many years ago ("Red Boobook Owl" was listed as a species in the RAOU 1926 Checklist as it was in the old Cayley's What Bird is That?) and then ridiculously lumped, I think by G.F. Mees in the 1960s? In the wild, they are VERY different birds (species) – one a small, pint-sized rainforest bird – the other a larger open forest bird. Often, all that separates them physically is the edge of the rainforest – and there appears to be no hybridisation – at least none that we can find.

In their own habitats, you can also fairly easily pick a difference in the voice. And more importantly they have different habits as well as different appearances. The noticeable thing when one first sees lurida is its tiny size, its lack of "goggles", the spotting, the greenish eye colour. Go outside the rainforest and you will, if you are lucky, find a normal sized boobook with "goggles", heavy striations (ocellata) on the underparts, different eye colour and so on. These open forest races (ocellata and boobook) are mostly rather rare in the areas surrounding the Wet Tropics rainforest – lurida is fairly plentiful within it.

I cannot see that because lurida will respond to a call of other boobooks, that this is criteria which supports them being a single species. How would one know that a responding lurida is not challenging a bird/species it regards as an intruder or competitor? I once played the call of a Red Goshawk on the Mitchell River in north Queensland in several different spots along the river. Though I never got a Red Goshawk to respond, I got quite a few Pied Currawongs at each spot to come bolting in and respond - very aggressively. This is an extreme example I know but it can happen.

Having guided (birding groups/tours) for almost 20 years from the 1980s until the early 2000s, I found a number of species will respond to the call of another species for different reasons – Large-billed to Mangrove Gerygone readily comes to mind, Leaden and Satin Flycatchers etc. At times, I have played calls of fairy-wrens, or honeyeaters etc and have a butcherbird respond (seeing them as prey). And so on.

In summary, lurida deserves species ranking without delay.

Lloyd Nielsen,
Mt Molloy, (Wet Tropics), Nth Qld


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