Laughing Owl - Hakoke,Whekau.
Laughing Owl - Hakoke,WhekauSceloglaux albifacies albifacies (South Island)Sceloglaux albifacies rufifacies (North Island)
Once the maniacal laugh like a call of this bird rang through the night forests,then in just 40 years this call was heard no more.However reports ..... persist.
Laughing Owl was a moderate sized Owl 14-15" in height and with a
wingspan of 10.4" It had reddish brown plumage streaked with darker
brown and a white face.
The North and South Island birds
were sub-species. The birds only called while in the wing,calls were
mainly heard on dark drizzly nights or preceding rain. The South Island
birds were larger than the smaller North Island species; males were
generally smaller than females. Abundant until around 1845, within 40
years this charming little bird had disappeared. However,the call of
the laughing owl has been heard often since and there are those that
believe it may not be so extinct as thought.
species preferred open country for hunting,and rocky areas for shelter
and the rocky areas of the Southern Alps were very much suited to its
needs, as were areas of Canterbury and Otago. They showed a preferance
for low rainfall areas of the country.
Fiordland were also areas favored by these birds and remains were
found on Steward Island in 1881. In the North Island they were said to
inhabit the Ureweras, inhabititing holes in the cliffs,in the upper
reaches of the ranges. They also inhabited the Hakokee Cliffs.
fed on Lizards,insects and small birds for the plentiful fossilized
pellets that have been discovered give clear indication of their diet.
It was a ground feeder with sturdy legs that prefered to run its prey
Nesting was generally on bare ground and in rocky crevices. The nests were made of dry grass and two white eggs were laid.
bird was known to the Tuhoi people in Te Ureweras in the North Island.
birds were said to be found in the Albany area near Timaru in pre -
A North Island bird was collected from Mt
Egmout in 1856 and Wairapa in 1868; around this time birds were also
reported from the Porirua area and Te Karaka.
W.W Smith managed to breed some of these birds in captivity in February
of 1882. Several fine specimens along with eggs were dispatched to
Buller, along with letters describing the breeding behavior and care.
July 1914 saw the last sighting of a Laughing Owl; a specimen was found dead at the Blue Cliffs Station in Canterbury
The only physical proof of these birds that remained was 57 type specimens and 17 eggs in public collections (Worthy 1997)
seemed however, the Laughing Owl was not totally through. Unconfirmed
sightings of Laughing Owls came in from the North Island in 1925 and in
1927 one was supposedly heard at Lake Waikaremoana when it flew over
giving a weird cry,almost maniacal in Nature.
In the 1940s a Laughing Owl was reported spotted in the Pakahi area near Opotiki (Parkinson)
1950 saw a sighting at Manapouri
In the South Island in February of 1956 eggshell fragments were found at Saddle Hill in Fiordland.
most recent hope for this species came from the Canterbury region in
1960 when what appeared to be reasonably fresh eggshell fragments were
expeditions have been mounted to try and find the Laughing Owl and the
results have often been inconclusive. There have been possible calls
heard and occasional pellets and egg fragments, but never any glimpse
of this illusive bird.
Why these birds became extinct
is somewhat of a mystery.Their decline over 40 years has puzzled many.
It is believed the invasion of Weasels, Stoats and cats may have spelt
their doom. Rats were no problem to these species as they actually
provided a new food source for this bird as evidenced from pellets that
have been found.
the reason for their decline unconfirmed reports still continue to come
from areas such as Fiordland and various areas of New Zealand. But
still no photos or live birds. Perhaps in the remote areas of Fiordland
the damp night sky still rings with the maniacal laugh of this enigma.
Hopefully perhaps the Laughing Owl may have not yet had the last laugh.