The Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae), also called the Mopoke or Ruru, is a small brown owl found mainly in New Zealand and across most of Australia. The Australian species is the smallest species of owl in mainland 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. Two subspecies, the Lord Howe Boobook and the Norfolk Island Boobook both became extinct during the 20th century. However the last female of the Norfolk Island Boobook, was mated to a male imported from New Zealand and successfully began repopulating Norfolk Island.
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 Southern Boobook has almost 20 alternative common names, mostly regional. Of them, Mopoke (or Morepork) is the most recognised; others include, for example, Tasmanian Spotted Owl. Ruru is the bird's Māori name, and Boobook was used by some aboriginal tribes. Many of the common names are onomatopoeic, emulating the bird's distinctive two-pitched call.
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. 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 small birds, mammals and large insects such as moths, grasshoppers and, in New Zealand, wetas.
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