A medium-sized owl to 40 – 50 cm long, with dark eyes set in a prominent flat, heart-shaped facial disc that is encircled by a dark border. The feet are large and powerful, with fully feathered legs down to the toes. The owl exists in several colour forms, with wide variation in plumage. The upperparts are grey to dark brown with buff to rufous mottling and fine, pale spots. The wings and tail are well barred. The underparts are white to rufous-brown with variable dark spotting. The palest birds have a white face with a brown patch around each eye; the darkest birds have a chestnut face. The dark form of the Masked Owl is much browner than the Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa.
Extends from the coast where it is most abundant to the western plains. Overall records for this species fall within approximately 90% of NSW, excluding the most arid north-western corner. There is no seasonal variation in its distribution.
Habitat and ecology
- Lives in dry eucalypt forests and woodlands from sea level to 1100 m.
- A forest owl, but often hunts along the edges of forests, including roadsides.
- The typical diet consists of tree-dwelling and ground mammals, especially rats.
- Pairs have a large home-range of 500 to 1000 hectares.
- Roosts and breeds in moist eucalypt forested gullies, using large tree hollows or sometimes caves for nesting.