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Sceloglaux albifacies albifacies - Laughing Owl (RMNH 110.069)
RMNH 110.069
Sceloglaux albifacies albifacies - Laughing Owl (RMNH 110.070)
RMNH 110.070

Strigidae (Owls)

Laughing Owl Sceloglaux albifacies albifacies (Gray, 1844)

  • RMNH 110.069: Wanaka Lake, South Island, New Zealand. Obtained through: Finsch, October 1886.
  • RMNH 110.070: male. South Island, New Zealand, March 1876. Obtained through: Finsch, 1877.

Laughing sound
The Laughing Owl has its name from the sound it made when two birds were hailing each other. This species, which inhabited both North and South Island of New Zealand, was a specialized ground-hunter. It seems to have disappeared from North Island around 1890. The last reliable record from South Island was in July 1914, when a bird was found dead at Bluecliffs, South Canterbury.

The cause of its extinction remains unclear. Often the disappearance of its favourite prey, the 'native' Kiori Rat, Rattus exulans, is seen as major cause of its decline. However, this rodent was a relatively late immigrant to New Zealand, which could only have been on the Laughing Owl's menu since its introduction around 900 A.D., when it was introduced by Polynesian sailors. Before that time the owls could do without, so it should have been relatively easy for the birds to return to their earlier diet. Hunting by man has not been an important factor, though the species regularly turned up in European natural history collections, both dead and alive. Presumably the same factors which threatened other New Zealand birds, such as deforestation, introduction of predators and diseases, have been fatal to the owl.

Museum specimens
There are museum specimens in Edingburgh, Tring, Norwich, Bremen, Cam¬bridge (Massachusetts) and several New Zealand museums. The two birds in Naturalis were, like most other skins, collected on South Island by Otto Finsch, who later became curator of birds in Leiden.


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