Nature conservation

Threatened species

Powerful Owl - profile

Indicative distribution

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The areas shown in pink and/purple are the sub-regions where the species or community is known or predicted to occur. They may not occur thoughout the sub-region but may be restricted to certain areas. ( click here to see geographic restrictions). The information presented in this map is only indicative and may contain errors and omissions.
Scientific name: Ninox strenua
Conservation status in NSW: Vulnerable
Commonwealth status: Not listed
Profile last updated: 13 Mar 2024


The Powerful Owl is the largest owl in Australasia. It is a typical hawk-owl, with large yellow eyes and no facial-disc. Adults reach 60 cm in length, have a wingspan of up to 140 cm and weigh up to 1.45 kilograms. Males are larger than females. The upper parts of the Powerful Owl are dark, greyish-brown with indistinct off-white bars. The underparts are whitish with dark greyish-brown V-shaped markings. Juvenile Powerful Owls have a white crown and underparts that contrasts with its small, dark streaks and dark eye patches. The call of this species may be heard at any time of the year, but it is more vocal during the autumn breeding season. It has a slow, deep and resonant double hoot, with the female's being higher pitched and expressing an upward inflection on the second note.


The Powerful Owl is endemic to eastern and south-eastern Australia, mainly on the coastal side of the Great Dividing Range from Mackay to south-western Victoria. In NSW, it is widely distributed throughout the eastern forests from the coast inland to tablelands, with scattered records on the western slopes and plains suggesting occupancy prior to land clearing. Now  at low densities throughout most of its eastern range, rare along the Murray River and former inland populations may never recover. Recent increases in population density across Sydney and some other semi-urban areas do not seem to be solely due to increased awareness of this flagship species.

Habitat and ecology

  • The Powerful Owl inhabits a range of vegetation types, from woodland and open sclerophyll forest to tall open wet forest and rainforest.
  • The Powerful Owl requires large tracts of forest or woodland habitat but can occur in fragmented landscapes as well. The species breeds and hunts in open or closed sclerophyll forest or woodlands and occasionally hunts in open habitats. It roosts by day in dense vegetation comprising species such as Turpentine Syncarpia glomulifera, Black She-oak Allocasuarina littoralis, Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon, Rough-barked Apple Angophora floribunda, Cherry Ballart Exocarpus cupressiformis and a number of eucalypt species.
  • The main prey items are medium-sized arboreal marsupials, particularly the Greater Glider, Common Ringtail Possum and Sugar Glider. There may be marked regional differences in the prey taken by Powerful Owls. For example in southern NSW, Ringtail Possum make up the bulk of prey in the lowland or coastal habitat. At higher elevations, such as the tableland forests, the Greater Glider may constitute almost all of the prey for a pair of Powerful Owls. Flying-foxes are important prey in some areas; birds comprise about 10-50% of the diet depending on the availability of preferred mammals. As most prey species require hollows and a shrub layer, these are important habitat components for the owl.
  • Pairs of Powerful Owls demonstrate high fidelity to a large territory, the size of which varies with habitat quality and thus prey densities. In good habitats a mere 400 ha can support a pair when prey are dense. Where hollow trees and prey have been depleted, the owls need up to 4000 ha.
  • Powerful Owls nest in large tree hollows (at least 0.5 m deep), in large eucalypts (diameter at breast height of 80-240 cm) that are at least 150 years old. While the female and young are in the nest hollow the male Powerful Owl roosts nearby (10-200 m) guarding them, often choosing a dense "grove" of trees that provide concealment from other birds that harass him.
  • Powerful Owls are monogamous and mate for life. Nesting occurs from late autumn to mid-winter, but is slightly earlier in north-eastern NSW (late summer - mid autumn). Clutches consist of two dull white eggs and incubation lasts approximately 38 days.

Regional distribution and habitat

Click on a region below to view detailed distribution, habitat and vegetation information.


Recovery strategies

Activities to assist this species

Information sources

IBRA Bioregion IBRA Subregion Known or predicted Geographic restrictions region
Australian AlpsSnowy Mountains Known None
Brigalow Belt SouthLiverpool Plains Predicted None
Brigalow Belt SouthLiverpool Range Known None
Brigalow Belt SouthPilliga Known None
Brigalow Belt SouthTalbragar Valley Known None
NandewarPeel Known None
New England TablelandsArmidale Plateau Known Within 5 km buffer of Macleay Gorges subregion
New England TablelandsBinghi Plateau Known None
New England TablelandsEastern Nandewars Predicted None
New England TablelandsEbor Basalts Known None
New England TablelandsMoredun Volcanics Known None
New England TablelandsNightcap Known None
New England TablelandsNortheast Forest Lands Known None
New England TablelandsRound Mountain Known None
New England TablelandsSevern River Volcanics Known None
New England TablelandsStanthorpe Plateau Known None
New England TablelandsTenterfield Plateau Known None
New England TablelandsWalcha Plateau Known None
New England TablelandsWongwibinda Plateau Known East of Aberfoyle locality
New England TablelandsYarrowyck-Kentucky Downs Known None
NSW North CoastBarrington Known None
NSW North CoastCarrai Plateau Known None
NSW North CoastCataract Known None
NSW North CoastChaelundi Known None
NSW North CoastCoffs Coast and Escarpment Known None
NSW North CoastComboyne Plateau Known None
NSW North CoastDalmorton Known None
NSW North CoastEllerston Known None
NSW North CoastGuy Fawkes Known None
NSW North CoastKaruah Manning Known None
NSW North CoastMacleay Gorges Known None
NSW North CoastMacleay Hastings Known None
NSW North CoastMummel Escarpment Known None
NSW North CoastRocky River Gorge Known None
NSW North CoastTomalla Known None
NSW North CoastUpper Hunter Known None
NSW North CoastUpper Manning Known None
NSW North CoastWashpool Known None
NSW North CoastYuraygir Known None
NSW South Western SlopesCapertee Valley Known None
NSW South Western SlopesInland Slopes Known None
OceanBatemans Shelf Known None
OceanHawkesbury Shelf Known None
Ocean - Other StateSouthern Australian Coastal Waters Known None
Other StateACT Known None
Other StateJervis Bay Territory Known None
Other StateQLD Known None
Other StateVIC Known None
RiverinaMurray Fans Known None
South East CornerBateman Known None
South East CornerEast Gippsland Lowlands Known None
South East CornerSouth East Coastal Ranges Known None
South Eastern HighlandsBathurst Known None
South Eastern HighlandsBondo Known None
South Eastern HighlandsBungonia Known None
South Eastern HighlandsCapertee Uplands Known None
South Eastern HighlandsCrookwell Known None
South Eastern HighlandsHill End Known None
South Eastern HighlandsKanangra Known None
South Eastern HighlandsKybeyan-Gourock Known None
South Eastern HighlandsMonaro Known None
South Eastern HighlandsMurrumbateman Known None
South Eastern HighlandsOberon Known None
South Eastern HighlandsOrange Known None
South Eastern QueenslandBurringbar-Conondale Ranges Known None
South Eastern QueenslandClarence Lowlands Known None
South Eastern QueenslandClarence Sandstones Known None
South Eastern QueenslandScenic Rim Known None
South Eastern QueenslandSunshine Coast-Gold Coast Lowlands Predicted None
South Eastern QueenslandWoodenbong Known None
Sydney BasinBurragorang Known None
Sydney BasinCumberland Known None
Sydney BasinEttrema Known None
Sydney BasinHunter Known None
Sydney BasinIllawarra Known None
Sydney BasinJervis Known None
Sydney BasinKerrabee Known None
Sydney BasinMoss Vale Known None
Sydney BasinPittwater Known None
Sydney BasinSydney Cataract Known None
Sydney BasinWollemi Known None
Sydney BasinWyong Known None
Sydney BasinYengo Known None