Shelley's Eagle-owl Bubo shelleyi


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Vulnerable because it is suspected to have a moderately small population which is likely to be in decline owing to the clearance of its habitat for timber and agriculture.

Population justification
This species may require large areas of good quality habitat and occur at low densities (H. Rainey in litt. 2018). Thus it may have a small population, possibly below 10,000 individuals. It is placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals, equating to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals, with no subpopulation expected to contain >1,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is inferred to be declining owing to forest clearance within parts of its range. Deforestation analysis by Tracewski et al. (2016) estimated an annual decline in forest cover within this species’s range to be c.0.2% between 2000 and 2012, which would roughly equate to a decline of 6.4% over three generations (c.35 years). However, the extended anthropogenic impacts on the species, e.g. loss of prey populations due to hunting may be contributing to even higher declines (H. Rainey in litt. 2018). Therefore, while we may be confident in inferring a continuing decline in this species, the rate at which it is declining is uncertain.

Distribution and population

Bubo shelleyi is a large, rare forest owl known from scattered locations from Sierra Leone to northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Borrow and Demey 2001). It is known from the following sites: Gola (Sierra Leone); Lofa-Mano, Mt Nimba, Zwedru, Balagizi Mts (Liberia); Taï, Mt Nimba (contiguous with Mt Nimba in Liberia) (Côte d'Ivoire); Ghana (two old records from an area where it may now be extirpated [Grimes 1987, Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2009], with some tentative more recent sightings, and a possible report from a hunter [Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014]); 'south' Cameroon (Borrow and Demey 2001); Ipassa Strict Nature Reserve (Gabon); Dimonika Biosphere Reserve (Congo); Okapi Faunal Reserve (DRC). B. shelleyi is the largest African forest owl, and may thus require large areas of good quality habitat and thus have a small population, possibly below 10,000 individuals.


It is one of the most poorly known owls in Africa, and its ecology and behaviour are largely unknown (Koenig 1999); it has been recorded from inside forest, on forest edge and in clearings, in lowland areas (del Hoyo et al. 1999; Fry et al. 1988). Its full range of vocalisations have not been documented (Chappuis 2000), which is probably a factor in the paucity of records. It has been observed eating a large flying squirrel, and its large size and powerful feet suggest a diet of medium-sized to large prey (Fry et al. 1988). A captive bird required c.110 g of flesh per day (Fry et al. 1988). The timing of breeding is not clear; although intense calling has been noted in March, nestlings have been seen in September-November and fledged juveniles have been observed, or possibly observed, in December (del Hoyo et al. 1999; Fry et al. 1988).


The Upper Guinea forests are being cleared at a very high rate and the forests of Cameroon and much of Central Africa are also likely to suffer reductions in area and quality over the next few decades. The species may also be being impacted indirectly by hunting reducing prey availability (H. Rainey in litt. 2018).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is known from several protected areas. However, no targeted conservation action is known for this species.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Encourage the recording of as much information as possible from sightings, including habitat type, prey and relative abundance compared to other areas or preceding years (H. Rainey in litt. 2007). Carry out research into the species's ecology and behaviour, and record its vocalisations. Once a range of vocalisations have been recorded, conduct extensive surveys for the species. Monitor the clearance and degradation of lowland forests within the species's range. Increase the area of suitable habitat covered by protected areas.


Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Ekstrom, J., Taylor, J., Symes, A.

Rainey, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Bubo shelleyi. Downloaded from on 23/01/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/01/2020.