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Brown Fish Owl

Ketupa zeylonensis


The Brown Fish Owl belongs to the family Strigidae, more commonly referred to as typical owls. Sri Lanka is home to the smallest and the darkest of the four sub species which is primarily a nocturnal animal.

The species has a truly remarkable appearance with its beautiful golden eyes and predominantly chest-nut brown colouring. It is also adorned with black streaks, brown crossbars, a white neck and a pale green beak. 

The presence of Brown Fish Owls is associated with the availability of water.  Water provides a place for hunting as well as grooming for the owls. As a result, Brown Fish Owls can be seen even during the day in habitats that are abundant in water bodies – such as the Wilpattu National Park in the Northwest Coast of Sri Lanka. This protected area that is dotted with villus provides an ideal home for the species. 

The bird is a carnivore that preys on fish, frogs and crabs. The pointed scales on its toes allows it to seamlessly scoop away fish from the surface of water.  Before launching its flight to catch prey it first conducts a thorough surveillance of the water below while perched on a branch. The watch and catch of prey of the species is an exciting observation for any nature lover. Even though its primary diet consists of aquatic prey, it is also known to feed on rodents, birds and reptiles occasionally. 

The species has shown the ability to thrive in diverse habitats, even those that are dominated by humans. However, the proximity to water has always been a key driver of its distribution. In addition to Sri Lanka, the species is currently extant in most parts of the tropical world including Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Viet Nam. 

With its intimidating gaze and unique charisma, an encounter with the Brown Fish Owl is bound to be a memorable experience. 

Even though it is currently considered as a least concerned species according to the IUCN Red List, its population shows a downward trend making it imperative to protect and conserve their populations.