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Impurest's Guide to Animals #70 - Pel's Fishing Owl

Success, the peacock has finally been captured and all it took was some seed, bird lime and excessive moaning to finally bring the bird under control. Speaking of controlling things, we looked at invasive species last week, focusing on the flatworm Bipallium kewensei. This week’s animal was requested by @ccraft who wanted to learn more about the birds that fly at night…


Issue #70 - Pel’s Fishing Owl


Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class – Aves

Order – Strigiforms

Family – Strigidae



Related Species – Pel’s Fishing Owl is one of three species in the genus Scotopelia, the others being the Rufous Fishing Owl (Scitopelia ussheri) and the Vermiculated Fishing Owl (Scotopelia bouvieri) (1)



Wings over Dark Water

Pel’s Fishing Owl is one of the largest species of owls, with a wingspan of one and a half meters and an average weight of 2kg. The species lacks the facial disc found in most owl species, which is used to amplify sounds in the wider environment. While most owls have soft feathers, the quills of the Pel’s Fishing Owl are stiff, increasing flight speed at the expense of the sound that the wings make. When communicating, the males utter a deep horn like booming, while the females call is a more standard hoot (2).

As there name suggests, Pel’s Fishing Owls feed primarily on fish, using modified scales on the talons to grip struggling fish. Hunting usually takes place from a perch overlooking the river, and while predominantly fish eaters, the species will hunt frogs, crabs and young nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloctus) among other small aquatic animals. While the species has no predators as an adult, the species competes for resources and nesting spaces with the African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), and will even attack them during the breeding season.


Fishing Owls nest and breed during the dry season, when water levels are lowest and aquatic prey is at its easiest to capture. Two eggs are often laid, but like most owls and raptors, only the oldest and strongest chick usually reaches adulthood (3). The young generally fledge within two months of hatching and will remain in their parents territory for up to nine months before being chased away to claim their own fishing spots.

Five Fun Pel’s Fishing Owl Facts

The Pel’s Fishing Owl is the largest owl outside the genus Bubo, and the fourth largest in the world

The call of a male Pel’s Fishing Owl can be heard up to 3km away


Pel’s Fishing Owls are monogamous, forming long lasting breeding pairs

Despite being fish-eaters, the species can occasionally be found hunting in areas far away from permanent water courses

While still relatively common, Pel’s Fishing Owl population is under-threat from habitat destruction, not just from human action but an increase of African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) population due to the damage they cause to trees (4)



2. Del Hoyo, J; Elliot, A; Sargatal, J (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World 3, Barcelona Lynx Issues

3. König, Claus; Weick, Friedhelm (2008). Owls of the World (2nd ed.). London: Christopher Helm

4. Simmons, R.E. and Brown, C.J. (2006) Birds to Watch in Namibia: Red, Rare and Endemic Species. National Biodiversity Programme, Windhoek, Namibia.

Picture Referances





And with a hoot, the Pel’s Fishing Owl flies off into the night. Next week we have a tounge-tastic request from @cgoodness but until then critic, comment and discuss future species to cover as well as checking out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese