Owls are formidable predators with exceptional eyesight, sensitive directional hearing, sharp talons, a hawk-like beak and the ability to fly almost silently. Like many birds of prey, most owls are opportunistic hunters, taking whatever prey is available, but a few have developed a specialised talent for fishing. Of more than 200 owl species, only seven Asian and African species hunt and eat fish.
Blakiston's Fish Owl
Standing 24-30 inches tall, weighing up to 4.54kg and boasting a wingspan of 6 feet or more, the endangered Blakiston's fish owl may be the world's largest owl. Blakiston's fish owls are indigenous to remote eastern Siberia and the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Blakiston's fish owls perch by the water's edge, looking for movement near the surface before striking their prey. Their preferred prey is fish, but they will eat a variety of aquatic animals, including crayfish and amphibians.
Pel's Fishing Owl
Pel's fishing owl, also known as the African fishing owl, is the largest of Africa's three fish-eating owl species. This nocturnal predator stands up to 2 feet tall and is common throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Its diet consists almost entirely of small- to medium-sized fish snatched from large, slow-moving rivers and backwater pools. In contrast to Blakiston's fish owls, Pel's fishing owls skim the water and use their powerful talons to snatch fish swimming near the surface.
Malay Fish Owl
The Malay fish owl is native to the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian islands. Also known as the buffy fish owl, this medium-sized bird of prey stands nearly 20 inches tall and weighs approximately 1.81 Kilogram. Malay fish owls live in a wide range of habitats, including coastal areas, mangrove forests and wooded highlands. Its diet consists primarily of fish, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates but it will also eat rats, mice, small reptiles and carrion.
Brown Fish Owl
Brown fish owls are found throughout mainland Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and much of southwest Asia Minor, including Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. Brown fish owls achieve a maximum height of approximately 2 feet, and weigh 25.4kg. Living in lowland forests, mangroves and open wooded areas near water, these owls do not restrict their diet to fish. They also eat reptiles, crabs, small mammals, other birds and carrion.
Other Fish-Eating Owls
The other species of Asian fish-eating owl is the tawny fish owl which is found in throughout southeast Asia, Taiwan and the Indian subcontinent.
Addtional African fishing owl species are the vermiculated fishing owl, which lives in the riverine forest of sub-Saharan central Africa, and the endangered rofous fishing owl which occupies a small habitat of subtropical and tropical forest in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia.