Backyard Birds

Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)

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 medium-sized brown owls 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 of the myths and legends surrounding the Bunyip.


The Barking Owsl is colored brown with white spots on its wings and a streaked chest. They have a dark brown beak and almost no facial mask.

Their yellow, forward-facing eyes are nearly as large as human eyes and are immobile within their circular bone sockets.

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 Owls live 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 rivers, swamps, 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 farmhouses.



Most people hear the Barking Owls 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 it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. It has been named because of these noises. Barking and growling are more common than the screaming of the barking owl.

The screaming of the Barking Owl is said to sound like a woman or child screaming in pain. Hearings of ‘screaming lady,’ as it is so nicknamed, are very rare and many only hear the sound once in their life 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 “mimic” 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 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 started the Bunyip story and it could be caused by other sources. But it seems that the Barking Owl will stay as the most likely explanation.

More Owl Information


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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