Mounted Laughing Owl (Whekau) Specimen; Sceloglaux albifacies; 2002/214.02


South Canterbury Museum


Mounted Laughing Owl (Whekau) Specimen

Taxonomic Classification

Sceloglaux albifacies

About this object

This taxidermy specimen of a laughing owl, now an extinct species, is mounted in a perched position, leaning slightly forward with its head cocked to the left. It was extracted for display from a large, late-nineteenth-century collection of native New Zealand and Australian birds perched amongst a tangle of branches in a glass-fronted wooden cabinet.

The bird’s body feathers are yellow-brown striped with dark brown. Some of the back feathers are edged with white, while the tail and wing feathers have light, creamy brown bars. At the neck and on the facial disk the feathers are a light grey-brown. Most laughing owls had white facial disks. It is thought this darker colouration was either an attribute of a separate subspecies, or an individual variation most commonly found on males.

The laughing owl was New Zealand’s largest owl species. Its name came from its loud call, which was said to sound like “a series of dismal shrieks.” These owls occurred mainly in drier open country areas, nesting in rock crevasses and fissures and preying on a range of birds, reptiles, and insects.

Laughing owls were still locally common in the nineteenth century, but began to disappear once stoats and ferrets were introduced to combat the rabbit plague. The last definite laughing owl record was from South Canterbury, with a dead specimen being found on a road in the Bluecliffs area in 1914. Reports of live birds persisted into the 1920s in the Raincliff area.

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