Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable as its population is presumed to be small and declining owing to the destruction and severe fragmentation of its rainforest habitat. Climate change may add to the loss of part of its ecological niche in the future.

Population justification
A conservative estimate of primary rainforest cover in Madagascar is c.40,000 km2 so even at 0.1 individuals/km2, a low population estimate would be 4,000 individuals (F. Hawkins in litt. 2009). It is placed in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, equating to 3,750-14,999 individuals, which is rounded to 3,500-15,000 individuals here.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining at an unquantified rate owing to the destruction and degradation of its habitat through clearance for subsistence cultivation, commercial logging and uncontrolled fires. An increasing human population is putting pressure on the remaining habitat (Du Puy and Moat 1996). Modelling the possible effects of climate change have shown that this species's ecological niche may decline by as much as 72% due to climate change over the 50 year period from 2000-2050 (Andriamasimanana and Cameron 2013). Assuming a linear decrease, this would equate to a c.34% decline in its ecological niche over its next 3 generations, provisionally placed here in the range of 30-49% (c.23% in next 2 generations; c.11% in next generation).

Distribution and population

Tyto soumagnei occurs in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar, where it was formerly known from between Amber Mountain in the far north to Mantadia National Park in the centre-east, before a further site (Kalambatritra) was located 500 km further south of its previously known range (Irwin and Samonds 2002). More recently, the species was found in the extreme south-east of Madagascar, in the lowlands of Tsitongambarika, extending its presumed range considerably (R. Safford in litt. 2007, R. Thorstrom and L-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2007). It is probably present in all suitably large blocks of humid evergreen forest in the east and north of Madagascar, but its nocturnal habits make it difficult to detect. Future surveys may reveal it to be less rare than currently thought (Morris and Hawkins 1998, ZICOMA 1999), and it has been found to be common at Bemanevika New Protected Area at 1,500-1,650 m (L-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2012).


The species occurs in and adjacent to humid evergreen forest from sea level to 2,000 m (Morris and Hawkins 1998, ZICOMA 1999), but has also been recorded in an area dominated by dry deciduous forest (van Esbroeck 2006, Cardiff and Goodman 2008). It hunts at night in somewhat open areas in or near primary forest, perching in trees at the forest edge. Although formerly believed to occur only in undisturbed rainforest (Langrand 1990), it has been recorded in degraded/secondary forest-edge vegetation and also hunts over open, human-altered habitat adjacent to forest, including rice-paddies and slash-and-burn cultivation (Thorstrom and de Roland 1997, Thorstrom et al. 1997), and it may require both forest and open areas (and so may be absent from large areas of forest interior [S. Mitchell in litt. 2009]). In Masoala it ranged over 210 ha (Thorstrom et al. 1997). Its diet is predominantly small native mammals, in contrast to T. alba which feeds mostly on introduced rat Rattus spp. (Goodman and Thorstrom 1998) outside primary forest. Tsingy tufted-tailed rats Eliurus antsingy constituted almost 50% of total prey mass of birds in dry forest at Ankarana (northern Madagascar), and birds here also consumed insects, frogs and geckos (Cardiff and Goodman 2008). Birds have been recorded roosting on rock ledges and in cave entrances (van Esbroeck 2006, Cardiff and Goodman 2008). The first nest recorded by scientists was found in September 1995, 23 m above ground, in a natural tree-cavity in an isolated native tree Weinmannia, 500 m from the edge of the main forest block; clutch-size was probably two (two young successfully fledged) (Thorstrom and de Roland 1997). The species may have been overlooked previously for three reasons: a) it is reclusive and strictly nocturnal; b) it is mistaken for T. alba; and c) it occurs patchily and at low densities (Irwin and Samonds 2002, R. Thorstrom and L-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2007).


Deforestation, mainly for subsistence slash-and-burn cultivation but also for commercial logging, continues to destroy the species's main evergreen forest habitat. Uncontrolled use of fire, often as a result of poor farming practices, is also a major cause of deforestation. Much of the eastern coastal plain has either already been cleared or is covered by highly degraded forest; remaining habitat is under pressure from the increasing human population (Du Puy and Moat 1996). Climate change may also pose a threat to its habitat with 72% of its ecological niche projected to be lost in the 50 year period 2000-2050 due to climate change alone (Andriamasimanana and Cameron 2013).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. Several sites where it has been recorded are protected areas - Mantadia National Park, Marotandrano Special Reserve, Masoala National Park, Montagne d'Ambre National Park, Tsaratanana Strict Reserve and Zahamena National Park - where it probably occurs at low density (ZICOMA 1999). Four individuals are being radio-tracked and monitored at Bemanevika New Protected Area (L-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Establish presence or absence at rainforest sites to the south of Mantadia, especially in Midongy-South, Ranomafana, Andringitra and Andohahela national parks. Determine its habitat requirements for breeding and foraging, to clarify its population size. Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.


30 cm. Medium-sized owl. Variable rich orange-buff upperparts (including crown), marked with sparse black spots especially on crown, coverts and flight feathers. Rather uniform pale orange underparts, with paler facial ruff and belly. Pale bill, grey legs. Similar spp. From Barn Owl T. alba by smaller size, rounder facial disk, overall rich orange colouration (especially on breast). Voice Call usually strongly descending in tone (like T. alba).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Khwaja, N., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Deliry, C., Safford, R., Thorstrom, R., Mitchell, S., Réné De Roland, L., Hawkins, F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Tyto soumagnei. Downloaded from on 19/10/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 19/10/2019.