Hume's Hawk-owl

~ presented by Birds of India

~ by Sumit Sen

'Bird of the Month'

 ? Niranjan Sant
Andamans, November 2009
Image: Niranjan Sant

Scientific name: Ninox scutulata obscura
                        Synonyms: Ninox obscura (Hume,1872)[1]; Rasmussen and Anderton (2005)[4].
                        We follow Tim Inskipp's updated (2009) version of the Oriental Bird Club Checklist
                        which treats this species as a subspecies of Brown Hawk Owl, as does the 2nd Edition
                        (2008) of the 'Owls of the World' by Konig
[10,11]. The IOC accepts the split[13].
                        Other common name: Brown Hawk Owl, Oriental Hawk Owl, Hume's Brown Hawk-Owl

Local names: No known local names.

Status: 'Least concern' for Brown Hawk Owl (Ninox scutulata). No separate assessment for n.s.obscura[22].

The Hume's Hawk-owl belongs to the Strigidae ('true' or 'typical' owls) family, which is the larger of the two families of owls. The key feature that characterizes this family is the circular facial disk and large eyes. The talons have a smooth edge on the claw of the third toe. In comparison, tytonids show a heart-shaped facial disk and have a comb-like pectinate middle toe. Strigids are cryptically coloured, have a short-tailed compact structure, are large-headed, and are mainly nocturnal birds. They are often divided into 2 subfamilies: Buboninae and Striginae. They occupy virtually all terrestrial habitats, but most are forest dwelling[6,8,9].
The Strigidae family contains 192 species in 24 genera and 548 taxa and have a worldwide distribution. 80% of strigids are to be found in the tropics. Ninox is a genus comprising about 21 species found in Asia and Australasia with 2 (or 3) occurring in India. Many species are known as hawk owls. Ninox is characterized reduced facial disks, relatively small heads and elongated hawk-like body and tail[2,4,5].

The Fauna of British India by W.T. Blanford, 1895
Source: The Fauna of British India, 1895

The Hume's Hawk-owl is a restricted-range endemic limited to the Andaman Islands in India. It's range in Nicobar is questioned despite the type locality which Rasmussen believes to be an error[4].

First discriminated as new by A.O. Hume in 1873 in 'Stray Feathers' from a specimen "found in the Nicobars near Camorta", it was similarly treated by Baker (1927). Ripley (1961) and Ali & Ripley (1969), Inskipp et al. (1996) treated it as a subspecies, Ninox scutulata obscura. Rasmussen and Anderton (2005) have, however, treated it as a full species[1,2,4,5,14].

Original description by Hume in Stray Feathers

Description: Largish owl. 32cm. "Very dark chocolate-brown above and below, growing lighter and more rufous on the abdomen; a few small whitish spots or bars occur on the flanks and abdomen (often only to be seen by raising the overlying feathers), and the lower tail-coverts are barred with white; feathers of the lores, forehead, and chin bristly, whitish, or white at, the base, black at the ends; quills uniform deep brown; tail-feathers deep brown, with about four narrow pale greyish cross-bands and a whitish tip. The head above is often a little darker than the back.
Bill blackish; cere, ridge of upper mandible and tip of lower green; irides yellow; feet yellow; claws black."[2]
Habits: Nocturnal. Roosts by day singly or in pairs in thick canopy. Sallies from a perch to take flying insects. Often observed high in the air.
Anand Prasad describes the call thus: "oowuk-oowuk" with a one second pause, and.. a quite loud and pleasant "oo-uk..oo-uk" with a one second pause. Krys Kazmierczak gives the call of Andaman Scops as wuup, and Brown Hawk Owl as hoowup. [15,17,23].
Interrogative two-noted "cooo-/WHUK" (Rasmussen)[4]
Hear the call at Xeno-Canto uploaded by Tamas Zalai[17]

Local endemic across the Andaman Islands. Presence in the Nicobars is questionable.

Range Map
Population: There are no estimates of the population of this species though it is unlikely to be high given its restricted range.

? Mohanram Kemparaju
Brown Hawk Owl (Ninox scutulata hirsuta)
Thattekad, Kerala
Image: Mohanram Kemparaju

Habitat: The Hume's Hawk-owl can be found at forest edges, near rubber plantations, around settlements, and close to water[4,5].
Mainly insects (dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers) often caught in flight. Also takes crabs, lizards, amphibians, small mammals and birds[4,5,14,20].

Conservation status: There is no focus on the species as the nominate is widespread and of limited conservation concern. This may prove to be a grave mistake should current suggestions of treating it as a full species be generally supported and accepted at a later date. This is one of the birds which cry to be evaluated by conservationists as a distinct species and not lumped with the more abundant cogener.

Conservation measures: The Hume's Hawk-owl is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and its hunting or trapping is prohibited in India.

References and sources:
1. Hume A. O. , (1872) Stray Feathers1: Novelties Ninox obscurus, Sp. Nov p11-12.
2. Blanford W. T., (1895) The Fauna of British India including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Vol-III 309-311
3. Owl Pages: Oriental Hawk Owl - Ninox scutulata obscura
4. Rasmussen, P. C. & Anderton, J. C. (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Vols. 1 and 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. ISBN vols 1&2: 84-87334-66-0.
5. Ali, S. A. and S. D. Ripley (1969) Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Oxford University Press, Bombay. Vol.3
ISBN: 019 565936 8.
6. 'Natural History and Classification' of Owls
7. Eugene W. Oates (1889-98). The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma.
8. Animal Diversity Web - Family Strigidae
9. The Internet Bird Collection - Typical Owls (Strigidae)
10. Tim Inskipp (2009) Checklist of birds of the region covered by the Oriental Bird Club (Dickinson sequence). OBC
11. Claus Konig and Friedhelm Weick (2008) Owls of the World. Christopher Helm. ISBN-13: 9780713665482
12. Image by James Eaton at the Oriental Bird Images Gallery
13. IOC Updates: Accepted Splits (January 2009)
14. BUCEROS ENVIS Newsletter: Avian Ecology and Inland Wetlands Vol.11. No.2&3 (2006) (PDF)
15. King, B. 2003. The song of Ninox scutulata obscura. JBNHS. 100 (2&3):388-389.
16. Image by James Eaton at the Oriental Bird Images Gallery
17. Xeno-Canto: Bird Songs from Asia. Recording by Tamas Zalai.
18. The Swedish Museum of Natural History - Global owl project
19. PAVEY Chris R., Evolution of prey holding behaviour and large male body size in Ninox owls (Strigidae)
20. Bird Forum: Brown Hawk-owl
21. Prasad Anand (2002) Birds of India; South Andaman Trip Report
22. BirdLife International (2009)

© Sumit Sen 2009
Images copyright
© Niranjan Sant and Mohanram Kemparaju



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