The Barking Owl or Winking Owl (Ninox connivens) is a nocturnal bird species native to mainland Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea. They are a medium-sized brown owl and have an extremely characteristic voice that can range from a barking dog noise to a shrill woman-like scream of great intensity. Barking owls are often said to be the source to the myths and legends surrounding the Bunyip.
The Barking Owl is coloured brown with white spots on its wings and a streaked chest. They have large eyes that have a yellow iris, a dark brown beak and almost no facial mask. Their underparts are brownish-grey and coarsely sotted white with their tail and flight feathers being moderately lighter in colour. They are a relatively medium sized owl and their wingspan is between 85-100 cm in length. They weigh between 425 and 510g and size varies only slightly between the male and female birds with the male Barking Owl being larger.
The Barking Owl lives in Mainland Australia off the Eastern and Northern coast of the continent including areas surrounding Perth. They also live in Parts of Papua New Guinea and the Moluccas. Once widespread, Barking Owls are now less common in mainland Australia.
They choose to live in forests or woodland areas that have large trees for nesting and roosting. They mostly choose to live near river, swamp or creek beds as they are attracted to water. It is because they live in such places which include billabongs they have been mistaken for the mythical creature, the Bunyip. Bunyips, according to legend are said to inhabit creeks and lonely river beds in the Australian Bush.
Although Barking Owls are uncommon and sometimes even rare in many suburban areas it is not unheard of that they get accustomed to humans and even start to nest in streets or near farm houses.
Most people hear the Barking Owl rather than see it as it has an explosive voice unlike many other Australian owl species. It has a double dog bark and various growls that so closely mimic the real thing[vague] it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. It has so been named because of these noises. Barking and growling is more common than the screaming of the barking owl.
The screaming of the Barking Owl is said to be the loudest, most unbearable noise to the people who hear it. It sounds like a woman or child screaming in intense pain or suffering. That with the fact that it is usually only heard in the middle of the night makes the screaming of the Barking Owl the most horrific noise witnesses have ever heard. Hearings of 'screaming lady' as it is so nicknamed are very rare and many only hear the sound once in their entire lifetime even if they live next to a Barking Owl nest. The actual significance of the sound is unknown; though many myths surround the events that caused the owl to originally "mimick" the sounds.
In the early settlement of Australia a screaming noise matching the Barking Owl's description was credited and told to the settlers by the Indigenous Australians or the Aboriginals as the Bunyip. The Bunyip was said to be a fearsome creature that inhabited swamps, rivers and billabongs. Bunyips had many different descriptions but most were of an animal of some sort whose favorite food was that of human women. The cries and noises coming from swamps and creeks at night were not said to be the victims but actually the noise the Bunyip made. It is believed by many that the sound is of the nocturnal Barking Owl and that proves the location, the noises and the rarity of the Bunyip cries. It is still not proven though that the Barking Owl actually started the Bunyip story and it could be caused from other sources. But it seems that the Barking Owl will stay as the most likely explanation.
Barking Owls are not listed as threatened on the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, their conservation status varies from state to state within Australia. For example:
- The Barking Owl is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared.
- On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the Barking Owl is listed as endangered.