In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Listed as Vulnerable|
|Recovery Plan Decision||
Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans||
National Multi-species Recovery Plan for the Partridge Pigeon Geophaps smithii smithii, Crested Shrike-tit, Falcunculus frontatus whitei, Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli and Masked Owl Tiwi Islands Tyto novaehollandiae melvillensis 2004-2009 (Woinarski, J.C.Z, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
|Policy Statements and Guidelines||
Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010l) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
Documents and Websites
|State Listing Status||
|Non-statutory Listing Status||
|Scientific name||Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
Scientific name: Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli
Common name: Masked owl (northern)
The Masked Owl (northern) is a conventionally accepted subspecies of the Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) (Higgins 1999; Schodde & Mason 1997). A population of the Masked Owl on the Cape York Peninsula has been treated by some authors as a separate subspecies (T. n. galei) because of reported differences in size and plumage when compared to specimens obtained elsewhere (Mason 1983; Mees 1964; Schodde & Mason 1980). However, examinations of a small number of specimens from Cape York Peninsula have shown that the plumages and measurements of T. n. galei and the northern subspecies T. n. kimberli overlap (Higgins 1999). For this reason, Higgins (1999) considered individuals on Cape York Peninsula to be a subspecies of T. n. kimberli.
The Masked Owl (northern) is a large (males 600 g, females 1 kg) owl with prominent heart-shaped facial disc, with plumage highly patterned by speckling, and generally darker on the back and paler below (Woinarski 2004).
The distribution of the Masked Owl (northern) is very poorly known (Woinarski 2004), and three subpopulations have been suggested: Kimberley, Northern Territory (NT) and Cape York (Garnett et al. 2011).
The few records that are available show the Masked Owl (northern) to be present in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where it occurs from Yampi Sound north-east to Cambridge Gulf, including Windjana Gorge and Augustus Island (Barrett et al. 2003; Johnstone & Storr 1998; Mees 1964). There are historical records from near Broome (Crossman 1910).
In the Top End of the NT, the species occurs from the Cobourg Peninsula down to Katherine and Jasper Gorge (Victoria River area), and to the east at McArthur River. There have also been records at Dead Dog Waterhole (Barkly Tableland) and the Tanami Desert (Barrett et al. 2003; Blakers et al. 1984; Debus 1993; Fisher & Fisher 1985; Frith & Calaby 1974; Goodfellow 2001; Higgins 1999; Mees 1964; Robinson et al. 1992; Storr 1977);
In Queensland, there are historical records from the Normanton region, and from Pascoe, Archer, Chester and Watson Rivers on Cape York Peninsula (Higgins 1999; Mees 1964; Storr 1984c). It occurs along the southern rim of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York Peninsula and south to Atherton Tablelands and the Einasleigh-Burdekin divide (Garnett et al. 2011). There is some confusion about where the Queensland southern limit of the subspecies is, with authorities suggesting Mackay (Mees 1964) or Coomooboolaroo Station (west of Rockhampton) (Longmore 1978; Woinarski 2004).
Extent of occurrence and area of occupancy
The extent of occurrence of the Masked Owl (northern) is estimated, with medium reliability, to be 1 800 000 km² while the area of occupancy is estimated to be 18 000 km² (Garnett et al. 2011). Both of these areas are presumed to be declining (Garnett et al. 2011) as there have not been any recent records from near Broome, which represents the western limit of the recorded distribution (Barrett et al. 2003; Crossman 1910; Higgins 1999) or from Cape York Peninsula, which represents the north-eastern limit of the recorded distribution (Barrett et al. 2003; Higgins 1999). However, it is possible that the absence of recent records could be due to a lack of targeted survey effort in these area (Garnett 2007b pers. comm.).
In 2010, broadcast response surveys in the NT confirmed the importance of the Cobourg Peninsula for the Masked Owl (northern), with the subspecies detected 28 times after 150 survey sites (Ward 2010). Conversely, Kakadu National Park was found to have one (from 68) playback survey point hits (Ward 2010). The subspecies was not detected in 44 playback survey points on Cox Peninsula, or from eight in the Katherine District (Ward 2010). The small number of hits from playback experiments did little to determine population size or refine habitat requirements (Ward 2010).
The population of the Masked Owl (northern) is estimated to consist of 3000 breeding individuals. This estimate is considered to be of low reliability (Garnett et al. 2011).
The population size of the Masked Owl (northern) is suspected to be declining (Garnett & Crowley 2000), although definitive data is lacking (Garnett et al. 2011). There have not been any recent records from near Broome, Cape York Peninsula or some historical sites in the NT (Barrett et al. 2003; Higgins 1999). There have been only sporadic scattered records in the NT in recent years, despite a substantial increase in general survey effort (Garnett 2007b pers. comm.; Garnett & Crowley 2000). In the NT, declines of >10% per 15 years may be occurring (Garnett et al. 2011). Numbers are said to have 'plummeted' in an area consisting of a narrow band of rainforest between Cooktown and Townsville (Nielsen 1996).
In northern Australia, the Masked Owl has been recorded from riparian forest, rainforest, open forest, Melaleuca swamps and the edges of mangroves, as well as along the margins of sugar cane fields (Higgins 1999; Nielsen 1996; Storr 1977, 1980).
The main ecological features relevant to management of the Masked Owl (northern) are (i) a large home range (and hence low population density); (ii) requirements for large trees with large hollows for nesting; and (iii) diet largely comprising mammals (Woinarski 2004).
The Masked Owl (northern) usually nests in tree hollows, within patches of closed forest (Garnett & Crowley 2000). They usually lay two to three eggs (Higgins 1999). In northern Queensland, nests of the subspecies (n=5) were 7–8 km apart (Hollands 1991a). The subspecies probably breeds in March–October (DEWHA 2010l).
Little is known about the life cycle of the Masked Owl (northern) and the following information applies to the species (Tyto novaehollandiae) as a whole. The female occupies the nest for up to 10 weeks before laying. Only the female incubates and broods the young, during which time the male hunts for the female and chicks. Once brooding ends (two to three weeks after hatching), both sexes hunt (Fleay 1949; Schodde & Mason 1980). The incubation period is generally 33–35 days (Fleay 1949), but could be as much as 42 days (Hollands 1991a). The fledging period is 10–12 weeks (Hollands 1991a; Schodde & Mason 1980). The young are dependent on the parents for one to three months after fledging, but start to seek their own food after the first month (Schodde & Mason 1980).
The Masked Owl (northern) feeds in open woodland on small to medium-sized terrestrial mammals (Garnett & Crowley 2000).
The Masked Owl (northern) is sedentary, territorial and usually seen singly but occasionally in pairs or family groups (DEWHA 2010l). Radio-tracked females of the southern subspecies T. n. novaehollandiae stayed within a core area of approximately 155 ha and within a home-range of 1017–1178 ha in the non-breeding period (Higgins 1999; Kavanagh & Murray 1996).
Where ranges overlap, the Masked Owl (northern) may be confused with the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and the Grass Owl (T. capensis) (DEWHA 2010l). The Masked Owl (northern) is strictly nocturnal, cryptic and quiet (DEWHA 2010l). Also, the Masked Owl (northern) legs are conspicuously well feathered and its claws and feet large and strong (Woinarski 2004).
The recommended method to survey for the Masked Owl (northern) is to conduct broadcast surveys (the playback of recorded calls, including squeaky noises, to solicit a response from the target subspecies) in suitable habitat to detect responses, especially in the lead up to the breeding season (October–December). Area searches and transect surveys are unlikely to be effective for the Masked Owl (northern) because of its nocturnal behaviour and cryptic nature (DEWHA 2010l). Given the very large size of territories, it is very possible that a broadcast within an occupied territory will not be heard by resident birds, in which case they will not be detected (false negative). Hence multiple sites within an area must be surveyed. If the site of interest is small, it may cover only part of a territory, and surveys over multiple nights may be more appropriate (Ward 2010).
In one large scale survey, Ward (2010) recommended broadcast surveys at night along roads through suitable habitat at sites 1–2 km or more apart. It was noted that roads may not pass through preferred habitat. At each site:
- Broadcast the call of the Masked Owl (northern).
- For the first 5 minutes of the broadcast, listen for calls of the subspecies and watch for silhouettes of birds flying in to the area around the speaker (i.e. do not use a spotlight).
- In the second 5 minutes, keep listening for owl calls but use a spotlight to look for owls in the trees around the site.
- When spotlighting, do an initial scan of all the nearby trees, then spend the rest of the 5 minutes doing a more careful search of the trees for owls and small mammals (potential prey).
The reason for the low population density of the Masked Owl (northern) is unknown (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The subspecies has undoubtedly been affected by broad-scale changes to the environment of northern Australia caused by altered fire regimes, grazing by livestock and feral animals, and the invasion of native woodlands by exotic plants, particularly introduced pasture grasses (Woinarski 2004). There is some evidence of a broad-scale decline in the numbers of small and medium-sized endemic mammals across northern Australia over the last century (Braithwaite & Griffiths 1994; Pardon et al. 2003; Sattler & Creighton 2002; Winter & Allison 1980; Woinarski et al. 2001, 2011) that may have reduced the availability of food for the Masked Owl (northern) (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Woinarski 2004).
It has been suggested that competition with other large owls (Schodde & Mason 1980) or a limited availability of large trees with hollows suitable for nesting could be limiting population size. The latter seems unlikely given the broad extent of tree cover across northern Australia (Garnett & Crowley 2000). A study conducted in tall eucalypt forest and woodland near Darwin however reported that resident populations of the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and Black-footed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii) were approaching carrying capacity because of the availability of hollow-bearing trees (Pittman 2003). Furthermore, there has been a trend towards fires of increased frequency, intensity and scale in northern Australia in the past 50 years which, magnified by the invasion of native vegetation communities by exotic pasture grasses, has probably resulted in a decline in the number of large eucalypt trees, and especially of those with extensive hollows (Williams et al. 1999b, 2003).
The use of the rodenticide Klerat, which has now been banned, has been identified as a possible but unproven cause of the decline of the Masked Owl (northern) in the wet tropics of Queensland (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Nielsen 1996; Young & De Lai 1997).
The increasing spread and pace of development in the Darwin and Daly River areas of the NT could also be reducing the extent of suitable habitat for the subspecies (Woinarski 2004).
At present, the limited management resources available in almost all parts of northern Australia are considered insufficient to halt the ongoing broad-scale degradation of native environments by the processes described above (Woinarski 2004).
The following recovery actions have been recommended for the Masked Owl (northern):
- Establish and operate a recovery team or regular forum or alliance to assist in the coordination of management actions (Woinarski 2004).
- Examine the impacts of land clearing, particularly in the Darwin-Daly River region, and the response to historic clearing in north-eastern Queensland, and use the resulting knowledge to generate guidelines to protect habitat in landscapes subject to increasingly intensive development (Woinarski 2004).
- Develop a monitoring program to provide effective and accurate measures of trends in status (Woinarski 2004).
- Assess the population size, distribution and habitat requirements (Woinarski 2004).
- Assess trends in response to management interventions (Garnett et al. 2011).
- Assess causes for decline, i.e. small mammal decline (Garnett et al. 2011).
- Maintain and enhance the suitability of habitat through fire management (Woinarski 2004).
- Minimise the impacts of current and proposed land clearing activities (Woinarski 2004).
- Minimise the impacts caused by the spread of exotic pasture plants (Woinarski 2004).
There have not been any major studies on the Masked Owl (northern).
Key management documents for the Masked Owl (northern) can be found at the start of the profile. Additionally, a brief recovery outline for the subspecies is featured in The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011).
The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.
Barrett, G., A. Silcocks, S. Barry, R. Cunningham & R. Poulter (2003). The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia.
Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.
Braithwaite, R.W. & A.D. Griffiths (1994). Demographic variation and range contraction in the Northern Quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae). Wildlife Research. 21:203-218.
Crossman, A.F. (1910). Birds seen in and around Broome, north-western Australia. Emu. 10:111-113.
Debus, S.J.S. (1993). The mainland Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae: a review. Australian Bird Watcher. 15:168-191.
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2010l). Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: DEWHA. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/threatened-birds.html.
Fisher, K. & L. Fisher (1985). Some observations of Jasper Gorge, Victoria River Downs, Northern Territory. Northern Territory Naturalist. 8:13-16.
Fleay, D. (1949). The Tasmanian Masked Owl. Emu. 48:169-176.
Frith, H.J. & J.H. Calaby (1974). Fauna survey of the Port Essington district, Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory of Australia. CSIRO Division Wildlife Research Technical Paper No. 28.
Garnett, S., J. Szabo & G. Dutson (2011). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing.
Garnett, S.T. (2007b). Personal communication. School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University. August 2007.
Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.
Goodfellow, D.L. (2001). Birds of Australia's Top End. Sydney: Reed New Holland.
Higgins, P.J., ed. (1999). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds Volume 4: Parrots to Dollarbird. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Hollands, D. (1991a). Birds of the Night: Owls, Frogmouths and Nightjars of Australia. Reed, Balgowlah, New South Wales.
Johnstone, R.E. & G.M. Storr (1998). Handbook of Western Australian Birds. Vol. 1: Non-passerines (Emu to Dollarbird). Perth, Western Australia: West Australian Museum.
Kavanagh, R.P. & M. Murray (1996). Distribution of nocturnal forest birds and mammals in north-eastern Newcastle, New South Wales. Emu. 96:250-257.
Longmore, N.W. (1978). Avifauna of the Rockhampton area, Queensland. Sunbird. 9:25-53.
Mason, I.J. (1983). A new subspecies of Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae (Stephens) from southern New Guinea. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists Club. 103:123-128.
Mees, G.F. (1964). A revision of the Australian Owls (Striigdae and Tytonidae). Zoologische Verhandelingen. 65:1--62.
Nielsen, L. (1996). Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Gerard Industries, Bowden.
Northern Territory Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NT NRETAS) (2006ar). Threatened Species of the Northern Territory-Masked Owl (north Australian mainland subspecies) Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli. [Online]. Available from: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/wildlife/animals/threatened/pdf/birds/masked_owl_kimberli_vu.pdf.
Pardon, L.G., B.W. Brook, A.D. Griffiths & R.W. Braithwaite (2003). Determinants of survival for the Northern Brown Bandicoot under a landscape-scale fire experiment. Journal of Animal Ecology. 72:106-115.
Pittmann, G.W. (2003). Occurrence and Use of Tree Hollows by Mammals in Fragmented and Continuous Savanna Woodlands in Northern Australia. Hons. Thesis. BSc (Honours) thesis, Northern Territory University.
Robinson, D., N. Gambold, K. Menkhorst, S. Mann & M. Fleming (1992). Further interesting bird records from the Gulf of Carpentaria and Arnhem Land. Northern Territory Naturalist. 13:16-24.
Sattler, P. & C. Creighton (2002). Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Audit. National Land and Water Resources Audit, Canberra.
Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1980). Nocturnal Birds of Australia. Melbourne: Lansdowne.
Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1997). Aves (Columbidae to Coracidae). In: Houston, W.W.K. & A. Wells, eds. Zoological Catologue of Australia. 37.2. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.
Storr, G.M. (1977). Birds of the Northern Territory. Special Publications of the Western Australian Museum. 7:1-130.
Storr, G.M. (1980). Birds of the Kimberley Division, Western Australia. Special Publications of the Western Australian Museum, No. 11. 11:1-117. Perth, Western Australia: Western Australian Museum.
Storr, G.M. (1984c). Revised list of Queensland birds. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement. 19:1-189.
Ward, S.J. (2010). Survey protocol for Masked Owls in the NT Tyto novaehollandiae (north Australian mainland subspecies T. n. kimberli and Tiwi subspecies T. n. melvillensis). Darwin, Northern Territory: Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport.
Williams, R.J., G.D. Cook, A.M. Gill & P.H.R. Moore (1999b). Fire regimes, fire intensity and tree survival in a tropical savanna in northern Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology. 24:50-59.
Williams, R.J., W. Muller, C-H. Wahren, S.A. Setterfield & J. Cusack (2003). Vegetation. In: Andersen, A.N., G.D. Cook, & R.J. Williams (Eds), eds. Fire in Tropical Savannas: The Kapalga Experiment. Page(s) Pp. 79-106. Springer-Verlag, New York.
Winter, J.W. & F.R. Allison (1980). The native mammals of Cape York Peninsula - changes in status since the 1948 Archbold Expedition. In: Stevens, N.C., & A. Bailey (Eds), eds. Contemporary Cape York Peninsula. Page(s) 31-44.
Woinarski, J.C.Z (2004). National Multi-species Recovery Plan for the Partridge Pigeon Geophaps smithii smithii, Crested Shrike-tit, Falcunculus frontatus whitei, Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli and Masked Owl Tiwi Islands Tyto novaehollandiae melvillensis 2004-2009. [Online]. Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure Planning and Environment. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/smithii-whitei-kimberli-melvillensis/index.html.
Woinarski, J.C.Z., D.J. Milne & G. Wanganeen (2001). Changes in mammal populations in relatively intact landscapes of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology. 26:360-370.
Woinarski, J.C.Z., S. Legge, J.A. Fitzsimons, B.J. Traill, A.A. Burbidge, A. Fisher, R.S.C. Firth, I.J. Gordon, A.D. Griffiths, C.N. Johnson, N.L. McKenzie, C. Palmer, I. Radford, B. Rankmore, E.G. Ritchie, S. Ward & M. Ziembicki (2011). The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response. Conservation Letters. 4(3):192-201.
Young, J. & de Lai, L. (1997). Population declines of predatory birds coincident with the introduction of Klerat rodenticide in north Queensland. Australian Bird Watcher. 17:160-167.
This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Mon, 10 Mar 2014 19:41:16 +1100.