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Horned owls and eagle-owls
Indian Eagle-Owl
Indian Eagle-Owl, Bubo bengalensis
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Clade: Afroaves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Subfamily: Striginae
Tribe: Bubonini
Genus: Bubo
Duméril, 1805

Ophthalmomegas Dejaut, 1911[1] and see text

The American (North and South America) horned owls and the Old World eagle-owls make up the genus Bubo, at least as traditionally described. This genus, depending on definition, contains about one or two dozen species of typical owls (family Strigidae) and is found in many parts of the world. Some of the largest living Strigiformes are in Bubo. Traditionally, only owls with ear-tufts were included here, but that is no longer the case. 


File:Eagle(owl)-eye - modified.JPG

Detail of an eye of an eagle-owl.

mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data supports the decision to consider the Snowy Owl an eagle-owl adapted to Arctic conditions and moving it into Bubo, rendering the monotypic genus Nyctea invalid.[2]

The four fish-owls previously in the genus Ketupa were provisionally moved into Bubo as well.[3] However, the mtDNA cytochrome b data suggests that in this case, to make Bubo monophyletic the Scotopelia fishing owls would also need to be included there. On the other hand, the genus then becomes quite large and ill-defined, and Bubo in the expanded sense seems to consist of two distinct clades. Thus, the fish and fishing owls can alternatively be united in Ketupa if some aberrant eagle-owls – at least the Barred, Spot-bellied and Usambara Eagle-Owls, perhaps also Fraser's Eagle-Owl and maybe others – are moved into that genus too. As some enigmatic eagle-owls remain essentially unstudied and others – e.g. Verreaux's Eagle-Owl – are of unresolved relationships, more research is needed.[2]

Living species[]

The following living owls are usually included in Bubo:

Now in Nyctaetus[]

Now in Scotopelia[]

Now in Ketupa[]

Fossil record[]

Named and distinct Bubo species are:

  • Bubo florianae (Late Miocene[verification needed] of Csákvár, Hungary, tentatively placed here)
  • Bubo leakeyae (Early Pleistocene of Tanzania)
  • Bubo binagadensis (Late Pleistocene of Binagady, Azerbaijan)
  • Cuban Horned Owl, Bubo osvaldoi (Late[verification needed] Pleistocene of Cuba)

Some notable undescribed fossils of prehistoric horned owls, usually quite fragmentary remains, have also been recorded:

  • Bubo sp. (Late Pliocene of Senèze, France)[4]
  • Bubo sp. (Late Pliocene of Rębielice Królewskie, Poland; tentatively placed here)[5]
  • Bubo sp. (Late Pleistocene of San Josecito Cavern, Mexico)[6]

Specimen UMMP V31030, a Late Pliocene coracoid from the Rexroad Formation of Kansas (USA), cannot be conclusively assgned to either the present genus or Strix. This fossil is from a taxon similar in size to the Great Horned Owl (B. virginianus) or the Great Grey Owl (S. nebulosa).[7]

The Sinclair Owl (Bubo sinclairi) from Late Pleistocene California may have been a paleosubspecies of the Great Horned Owl,[8] while the roughly contemporary Bubo insularis of the central and eastern Mediterranean has been considered a junior synonym of a Brown Fish-owl paleosubspecies.[9] Additional paleosubspecies are discussed on the appropriate species page.

Several presumed Bubo fossils have turned out to be from different birds. The Late Eocene/Early Oligocene eared owls "Bubo" incertus and "Bubo" arvernensis are now placed in the fossil barn-owl genera Nocturnavis and Necrobyas, respectively. "Bubo" leptosteus is now recognized as primitive owl in the genus Minerva (formerly Protostrix). "Bubo" poirreiri from the Late Oligocene or Early Miocene of Saint-Gérard-le-Puy in France, is now placed in Mioglaux.

On the other hand, the supposed fossil heron "Ardea" lignitum from the Late Pliocene of Plaue-Rippersroda (Germany) was apparently an owl and close to Bubo or more probably actually belongs here. Given its age – about 2 million years ago or so – it is usually included in the Eurasian Eagle-Owl today.[10]


  1. ^ Possibly a junior synonym of Ketupa, if that is a valid genus: Pavia (1999), Mlíkovský (2002, 2003).
  2. ^ a b Olsen et al. (2002)
  3. ^ König et al. (1999)
  4. ^ Lambrecht (1933): p.616
  5. ^ Mlíkovský (2002)
  6. ^ A single bone of a large horned owl distinct from B. virginianus: Steadman et al. (1994)
  7. ^ Feduccia (1970)
  8. ^ Howard (1947)
  9. ^ Mlíkovský (2002, 2003)
  10. ^ Olson (1985): p.167, Mlíkovský (2002)


  • Feduccia, J. Alan (1970): Some birds of prey from the Upper Pliocene of Kansas. Auk 87(4): 795-797. DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext
  • Howard, Hildegarde (1947): A preliminary survey of trends in avian evolution from Pleistocene to recent time. Condor 49(1): 10–13. DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext
  • König, Claus; Weick, Friedhelm & Becking, Jan-Hendrik (1999): Owls: A guide to the owls of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven. ISBN 0300079206
  • Lambrecht, Kálmán (1933): Handbuch der Palaeornithologie [Handbook of Paleornithology]. Gebrüder Bornträger, Berlin. [in German]
  • Mlíkovský, Jiří (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext
  • Mlíkovský, Jiří (2003): Brown Fish Owl (Bubo zeylonensis) in Europe: past distribution and taxonomic status. Buteo 13: 61-65. PDF fulltext
  • Olsen, Jery; Wink, Michael; Sauer-Gürth, Heidi & Trost, Susan (2002): A new Ninox owl from Sumba, Indonesia. Emu 102(3): 223-231. doi:10.1071/MU02006 PDF fulltext
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985): The fossil record of birds. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 79-238. Academic Press, New York.
  • Pavia, Marco (1999): Un cranio di Bubo insularis Mourer-Chauviré & Weesie, 1986 (Aves, Strigidae) nelle brecce ossifere del Pleistocene di Capo Figari (Sardegna, Italia) ["A cranium of B. insularis from the Pleistocene ossiferous breccia of Cape Figari (Sardinia, Italy)"]. Atti della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Classe di Scienze fisiche, matematiche e naturali 133: 1-10 [Italian with English abstract]. PDF fulltext
  • Steadman, David William; Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquin; Johnson, Eileen & Guzman, A. Fabiola (1994): New Information on the Late Pleistocene Birds from San Josecito Cave, Nuevo León, Mexico. Condor 96(3): 577-589. DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext

External links[]

Eurasian Spoonbill This article is part of Project Bird Genera, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each genus, including made-up genera.
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