They are a medium-sized brown owl and have an extremely characteristic voice that can range from a barking dog noise to a shrill woman-like scream of great intensity.
Barking owls are often said to be the source to the myths and legends surrounding the Bunyip.
The Barking Owl is colored brown with white spots on its wings and a streaked chest. They have a dark brown beak and almost no facial mask.
Their yellow, forward-facing eyes are nearly as large as human eyes and are immobile within their circular bone sockets. For this reason, owls need flexible necks, as they have to turn the entire head to change views. They have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as most mammals and can move their heads 270 degrees in either direction (nearly all the way around!). Most other bird species have their eyes on the sides of their heads enabling them to see sideways and, to some extent, backwards. Owls, on the other hand, have both eyes in the front which enhances their depth perception.
Owls are far-sighted, and are unable to clearly see anything within a few inches of their eyes. Their far vision – particularly in low light – is, however, exceptional.
To protect their eyes, Owls have three eyelids. The upper lid closes when the owl blinks, and the lower closes when the Owl sleeps. The third eyelid – called a nictitating membrane – is a thin layer of tissue that closes diagonally across the eye, from the inside to the outside. The purpose of these membranes is to clean, moisten and protect the surface of the eyes.
Their underparts are brownish-grey and coarsely sotted white with their tail and flight feathers being moderately lighter in colour.
They are a relatively medium sized owl and their wingspan is between 85-100 cm in length.
They weigh between 425 and 510g and size varies only slightly between the male and female birds with the male Barking Owl being larger.
The Barking Owl lives in Mainland Australia off the Eastern and Northern coast of the continent including areas surrounding Perth. They also live in Parts of Papua New Guinea and the Moluccas. Once widespread, Barking Owls are now less common in mainland Australia.
They choose to live in forests or woodland areas that have large trees for nesting and roosting. They mostly choose to live near river, swamp or creek beds as they are attracted to water. It is because they live in such places which include billabongs they have been mistaken for the mythical creature, the Bunyip. Bunyips, according to legend are said to inhabit creeks and lonely river beds in the Australian Bush.
Although Barking Owls are uncommon and sometimes even rare in many suburban areas it is not unheard of that they get accustomed to humans and even start to nest in streets or near farm houses.
Most people hear the Barking Owl rather than see it as it has an explosive voice unlike many other Australian owl species.
It has a double dog bark and various growls that so closely mimic the real thing it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. It has so been named because of these noises. Barking and growling is more common than the screaming of the barking owl.
The screaming of the Barking Owl is said to sound like a woman or child screaming in pain. Hearings of ‘screaming lady,’ as it is so nicknamed, are very rare and many only hear the sound once in their life even if they live next to a Barking Owl nest. The actual significance of the sound is unknown; though many myths surround the events that caused the owl to originally “mimic” the sounds.
In the early settlement of Australia a screaming noise matching the Barking Owl’s description was credited and told to the settlers by the Indigenous Australians or the Aboriginals as the Bunyip. The Bunyip was said to be a fearsome creature that inhabited swamps, rivers and billabongs. Bunyips had many different descriptions but most were of an animal of some sort whose favorite food was that of human women. The cries and noises coming from swamps and creeks at night were not said to be the victims but actually the noise the Bunyip made. It is believed by many that the sound is of the nocturnal Barking Owl and that proves the location, the noises and the rarity of the Bunyip cries. It is still not proven though that the Barking Owl actually started the Bunyip story and it could be caused from other sources. But it seems that the Barking Owl will stay as the most likely explanation.
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