The Barking Owl nests in large tree hollows, which restricts its range to those areas with a sufficient number of old growth trees to support a population.
In Victoria, Queensland and the south west of Western Australia, Barking Owls average around 40cm or more in height. A second, smaller race inhabits a range from WA's Pilbara region up through the Northern Territory.
All Barking Owls are brown on the top and back of the head, wings and mantle, with chest and belly spotted brown and streaked white. They have large, powerful yellow feet tipped with scimitar-like black talons, a horn coloured bill tipped with black, and intense yellow irises. They are aggressive hunters of terrestrial and arboreal mammals and birds.
Barking Owls are so named because of their usual territorial call, which very much resembles the bark of a dog, right down to the low growl that precedes the bark. Observers who have not encountered Barking Owls sometimes mistake the call of the Southern Boobook for a Barking Owl, but where a Boobook's call is a soft, gravelly, cuckoo-like sound, the Barking Owl's call is unmistakeably strident and given in full voice. The call of the male is a tenor, "Wwwwwook-WOOK!" and the female is a higher, "Wark-Wark!" When a pair commence calling, the vocalisations will often vary from "Wook-wook!" to "Wark-wark!", "Wook-wark!" and so on, with the pair interchanging the "words" but not the tone. The Barking Owl has another call, given only by the male during the breeding season, which is best described as sounding like the blood curdling scream of a woman in mortal peril. This is how the Barking Owl acquired its other, somewhat less illustrious name of "The Screaming Woman Owl."
Due to habitat loss, there have been, at the time this page was first published, fewer than half a dozen confirmed sightings of Barking Owls in south western WA.
The bird in our photograph is "Scruffy," a Queensland Barking Owl who is part of the community education line-up at WA Conservation of Raptors.