|Morepork in Warkworth, New Zealand|
The morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), also called the Tasmanian spotted owl, is a small brown owl found throughout New Zealand, Tasmania, across most of mainland Australia and in Timor, southern New Guinea and nearby islands. This bird is the smallest owl in Australia and is the continent's most widely distributed and common owl.
The bird has almost 20 alternative common names, most of which – including mopoke, southern boobook, ruru and boobook– many of these names are onomatopoeic, as they emulate the bird's distinctive two-pitched call.
It occurs in most habitats with trees, ranging from deep tropical forests to isolated stands at the edges of arid zones, farmland, alpine grasslands or urban areas, but is most common in temperate woodland. They are usually seen singly, in pairs, or in small family groups of an adult pair and up to three young.
During the day, moreporks sleep in roosts. Although mainly nocturnal, they are sometimes active at dawn and dusk. The main hunting times are evenings and mornings, with brief bursts of activity through the night. On dark nights they often perch through the middle hours and, particularly if the weather is bad, may hunt by daylight instead. Although their main hunting technique is perch-and-pounce, they are agile birds with a swift, goshawk-like wing action and the ability to manoeuvre rapidly when pursuing prey or hawking for insects.
They hunt a variety of animals – mainly large invertebrates including scarab and huhu beetles, moths and caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers and, in New Zealand, wetas. They also take almost any suitably sized prey, particularly small birds, rats and mice. They can find suitable food in pine forests as well as native forest.
In the fictional "Discworld" novels, the main city is called Ankh-Morpork and has moreporks on its coat-of-arms. Terry Pratchett had not heard of the bird when he came up with the name but retroactively associated the name with the bird in later books.
"Morepork" by Ngaio Marsh (Short story contained in Alleyn and Others by Ngaio Marsh, edited by Douglas G. Greene, ISBN 978-1558820289)
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