Pel’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli)

It is a large, round-headed, rufous-brown owl, with a murky, spots, bars, spots, covering its plumage. Quite timid, this nocturnal bird forages at night, while day-roosting secludedly on huge trees nears swamps and rivers with dense vegetation. Its call is a hollow, horn-like “ooommm” call, accompanies by a chain of grumbles.

Read further to know more about the Pel’s Fishing Owl.

What is Pel’s Fishing Owl?

Pel’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli) is a large owl species belonging to the Strigidae family. It occurs in Africa, thriving near swamps, lakes, and slow-moving rivers, surrounded by overhanging trees. The species is one of the three fishing owls in the world. Its common and specific name commemorates Henrik Severinues Pel, who became Ghana’s governor from 1840 to 1850.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Strigiformes

Family: Strigidae

Genus: Scotopelia

Species: S. peli

Pel’s Fishing Owl Physical Description

Pel’s Fishing Owls are large owl species, growing from 20 to 24 inches, and weighing around 2055 to 2325 grams. Females are relatively larger than the males.

Their upperparts have a rufous-brown tone, covered with murky barrings, darkish spots, and streaks. Both tail and flight feathers are mottled with light and dark colors. The throat is white, which seems to inflate or expand whenever the owl sings. Meanwhile, underparts are dull rufous to yellowish-brown with darkish streaks, which ends on a rounded spot at the individual feathers’ tips. Facial disk is rufous-brown, inconspicuous, with an ill-defined rim. Underwing tetrices and thighs are subtly rufous. Long and loose feathers occur on the head and nape, giving the bird a rumpled appearance. Bill is black with a gray base. Eyes are brown, while cere is grayish. Lower legs and toes are naked and is pale yellow, sporting spicules, which allows easier grip on fish.

Where can they be spotted?

Pel’s Fishing Owls thrives in forests along swamps, estuaries, rivers, and lakes. They favor riverine forests that are densely-treed, where they can roost. Though rarely, they occur in semi-arid regions, given that there are established trees surrounding the water bodies, in which it can find its food. These birds do not migrate, and will only move to a new territory should there be a scarcity of food supply in their current habitat.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Pel’s Fishing Owl

As its names suggest, Pel’s Fishing Owls are fish-eating birds. While they can catch fish of up to two kilograms in weight, these birds prefer those weighing from 100 to 200 grams. Occasionally, they may also take crabs, mussels, and frogs. If necessary, it can even eat insects and young crocodiles.

These birds hunt at night from tree branches, overhanging water bodies. They spot fish prey though the ripples made on the water’s surface. They then glide down and pursue the fish using its powerful talons and go back to their perch. Pel’s Fishing Owls don’t immerse their bodies in the water and occasionally forage near sandbanks, wading in shallow waters.

Their breeding season usually occurs during the dry season, when water is clear and shallow, and when their food items are easily detected. They are monogamous, and pairs claim territories characterized by strong hooting, usually at the start of the breeding period.

The nest can be any natural cavity in old trees near the bodies of water. Like its owl cousins, they no longer lined it with other nesting materials, such as grass or twigs. The female lays 1 to 2 eggs, which she will also solely incubate for around 32 days. On the other hand, the male hunts and provide the food. Typically, only one of the broods will survive, which will fledge approximately 68 to 70 days. The juvenile will stay under its parents’ range for another 6-9 months.

The imminent threat facing the species’ is the human activities done on lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. Silting, damming, pollution, and overfishing affect the availability of their food. Nevertheless, their population size is still stable, and they are currently classified as Least Concern under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.



Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve


Hluhluwe Game Reserves

St Lucia Wetlands


Caprivi Region



Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park




Pels Fishing Owl
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