Tyto soumagneiMadagascan red owl(Also: Madagascar red owl)

Geographic Range

Madagascar red owls (Tyto soumagnei) are endemic to the island of Madagascar. Previously they were thought to live strictly in the eastern and northeastern parts of the island, however a study in 2002 noted two sightings of Madagascar red owls in Kalambatritra Special Reserve in south central Madagascar. This extends their previously known range by 500 km to the south. (Bruce, 1999; Irwin and Samonds, 2002)


Madagascar red owls are known to live and hunt along forest edges, rice paddies, and tavies (areas of deforestation due to slash-and-burn farming techniques). They have been documented to inhabit elevations from sea level to 2000 m.

Diurnal roosting has been documented along rock ledges and cave entrances. It has also been noted that during diurnal roosting, Madagascar red owls were spotted with large leaves covering their heads. It has been suggested that weather may play a role in diurnal roost selection, as the area is known to receive substantial rainfall. (Cardiff and Goodman, 2008; Langrand, 1990; Thorstrom, et al., 1997)

  • Range elevation
    Sea level to 2000 m
    to 6561.68 ft

Physical Description

Madagascar red owls are small owls, about a third smaller than common barn owls. One individual documented in 1997 weighed 323 g and had a body length of 27.5 cm. They are orange-red in color on the head, back, and stomach, though lighter underneath, and are speckled with black, sooty dots. They also have a short tail and an orangy-white to grey facial disk with blackish eyes. Males and females are similar in appearance, as are the juveniles though young tend to be brighter in color. (Bruce, 1999; Langrand, 1990; Thorstrom, et al., 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    323 g
    11.38 oz
  • Average length
    275 mm
    10.83 in
  • Average wingspan
    209 mm
    8.23 in


There is no known information on mating systems for Madagascar red owls. However, their habits are presumed to be similar to those of barn owls (Tyto alba). They perform chasing courtship flights, in which the male leads the female. The male will show the female nesting sites as well as bring her food. Barn owls form monogamous pairs for life. (Elphick, et al., 2001)

Very little is known about the reproductive habits of Madagascar red owls, due mainly to their reclusiveness. Only one nest has been described. It was found in a tree cavity 23 m above ground and contained two recently hatched individuals that appeared to stay in the area for four months. These chicks hatched in September and fledged 10 weeks later. In closely related barn owls (Tyto alba), the breeding season and brood size depends on food availability. In years with abundant resources, they have been known to lay two clutches. In lean years, clutch size decreases or some chicks may starve. (Bruce, 1999; Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Elphick, et al., 2001)

  • Average fledging age
    10 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    4 months

No information is known about parental investment for Madagascar red owls. In closely related barn owls (Tyto alba), the female incubates the eggs and the male will forage and feed her during this time. Owlets are born altricial, with downy feathers and eyes closed. Both male and female barn owls tend the young. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988)


The lifespan of Madagascar red owls is unknown.


Madagascar red owls are nocturnal hunters that engage in diurnal roosting. They are generally found living alone or in pairs. (Thorstrom, et al., 1997)

Home Range

Territory size for Madagascar red owls is unknown.

Communication and Perception

They emit a screech that has been recorded to last 1.5 seconds. This screech is utilized when leaving their roost and in response to other Madagascar red owls. They also have been heard making a 'wok-wok-wok' sound followed by a single, brief, and loud alarm that differs from the previously emitted wok sound. Like all birds, Madagascar red owls perceive their environment through audio, visual, tactile and chemical stimuli. (Langrand, 1990; Thorstrom, et al., 1997)

Food Habits

Madagascar red owls are carnivores. Examination of pellets indicated that their diet consists of native insects, reptiles, and mammals in addition to introduced brown rats (Rattus rattus). 99% of their diet consists of prey ranging in weight from 12.8 g to 102.7 g. (Cardiff and Goodman, 2008; Goodman and Thorstrom, 1998)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects


Predation has not been documented for Madagascar red owls.

Ecosystem Roles

Due to their reclusivity, nothing has been recorded regarding their relationships with other organisms on Madagascar beyond their dietary intake. Many owls play a significant role in population control of prey species.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Madagascar red owls on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Madagascar red owls on humans.

Conservation Status

Madagascar red owls are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with a decreasing trend in population. This is due mainly to deforestation that not only destroys their habitat but the habitat of their prey as well. This deforestation is the result of commercial logging and uncontrolled burns associated with farming. ("Tyto soumagnei", 2010)


Bonnie Garcia (author), Florida State University, Emily DuVal (editor), Florida State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2010. "Tyto soumagnei" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed January 20, 2010 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/143163/0.

Bruce, M. 1999. Family Tytonidae (Barn-owls). Pp. 34-75 in J del Hoyo, A Elliot, J Sargatel, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Cardiff, S., S. Goodman. 2008. Natural History of the Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei) in Dry Deciduous Tropical Forest in Madagascar. The Wilson Journal of Ornthinology, 120: 891-897.

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc..

Elphick, C., J. Dunning, Jr., D. Sibley. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Goodman, S., R. Thorstrom. 1998. The Diet of the Madagascar Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei) on the Masoalo Peninsula, Madagascar. The Wilson Bulletin, 110: 417-421.

Irwin, M., K. Samonds. 2002. Range extension of the Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei in Madagascar: the case of a rare, widespread species?. IBIS, 144: 680-683.

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the Birds of Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Thorstrom, R., J. Hart, R. Watson. 1997. New record, ranging behaviour, vocalization and food of the Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei. IBIS, 139: 477-481.