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Morepork Picture

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Warkworth, New Zealand

The Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae), also called the mopoke or morepork, is a small brown owl found mainly in New Zealand and the more fertile and temperate parts of Australia. Further to the north it is less common but widespread, its range extending to most of northern, central and western Australia, Timor, southern New Guinea and nearby islands including Tasmania. The Lord Howe Boobook inhabited Lord Howe Island is now locally extinct there, as is the subspecies from Norfolk Island. The name boobook is used by the Eora Australian Aboriginal tribe, who were the original inhabitants of the Sydney region.

The boobook which lives in Australia was originally thought to be the same species as the New Zealand morepork (ruru) but recent research has suggested this species is actually slightly larger than the New Zealand version.

The Norfolk Island Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae undulata) is one of the subspecies of this bird. In 1987, its population was down to only one female named Miamiti. Before Miamiti died in 1996, she had several young with two New Zealand morepork males which were introduced for this purpose. While the "pure" Norfolk Island lineage is now extinct, the hybrid population was, by 1999, reported to number over 35 owls . The subspecies is listed as endangered on the list of threatened fauna of Australia.

The southern boobook has almost 20 alternative common names, mostly regional; of them mopoke/morepork is the most well-recognised; others include, for example, boobook or Tasmanian spotted owl. In M?ori it is called ruru. Many of the common native names are onomatopoeic, the owl having a two-tone call giving rise to the names such as boo-book, more-pork, mo-poke and ru-ru.

A New Zealand morepork or ruru
Ninox novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae

It occurs in most habitats with trees, ranging from deep tropical forests to isolated stands at the edges of arid zones, farmland, or alpine grasslands, but is most common in temperate woodland. Southern boobooks are usually seen singly, in pairs, or in small family groups of an adult pair and up to three young. They are mainly nocturnal, but are sometimes active at dawn and dusk and, in New Zealand, even during the day. The main hunting times are evenings and mornings, with brief bursts of activity through the night. On dark nights they often perch through the middle hours and, particularly if the weather is bad, may hunt by daylight instead.

Although their main hunting technique is perch and pounce, they are agile birds with a swift, goshawk-like wing action and the ability to manoeuvre rapidly when pursuing prey or hawking for insects. Almost any suitably sized prey is taken, particularly birds or small mammals and, in New Zealand, wetas.

The fictional city of Ankh-Morpork features the morepork on its coat of arms.

Thylungra Station, SW Queensland

  1. ^ Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage What the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) means for Norfolk Island, p.20

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