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Temporal range: Late Miocene–Recent
Grass Owl adult.jpg
African grass owl, Tyto capensis
The "grass owls" are two rather long-legged species of Tyto.
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Tytonidae
Subfamily: Tytoninae
Genus: Tyto
Billberg, 1828

see text


Tyto is a genus of birds consisting of true barn owls, grass owls and masked owls that collectively make up all the species within the subfamily Tytoninae of the barn owl family, Tytonidae.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

Throughout their evolutionary history, Tyto owls have shown a better capability to colonize islands than other owls. Several such island forms have become extinct, some long ago, but some in comparatively recent times. A number of insular barn-owls from the Mediterranean and the Caribbean were very large or truly gigantic species.

Extant species[edit]

Seventeen species are recognized:[1]

Image Common Name Scientific name Distribution
Greater Sooty Owl, Papua New Guinea.jpg Greater sooty owl Tyto tenebricosa Australia
Lesser Sooty Owl at Bonadio's Mabi Wildlife Reserve.jpg Lesser sooty owl Tyto multipunctata Australia
Minahassa masked owl Tyto inexspectata Sulawesi, Indonesia
Taliabu masked owl Tyto nigrobrunnea Sula Islands, Maluku, Indonesia.
Moluccan masked owl Tyto sororcula south Moluccas of Indonesia
Manus masked owl Tyto manusi Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands
Golden masked owl Tyto aurantia island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea
Masked owl head 002.jpg Australian masked owl Tyto novaehollandiae Southern New Guinea and the non-desert areas of Australia.
Sulawesi owl Q0S0008.jpg Sulawesi masked owl Tyto rosenbergii the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Sangihe and Peleng
Red owl Tyto soumagnei Madagascar
0 Chouette effraie - Tyto alba - Annevoie.JPG Western barn owl Tyto alba Eurasia and Africa.
Barn Owl Closeup (17036360686).jpg American barn owl Tyto furcata the Americas
Captive Eastern Barn Owl, Assam.jpg Eastern barn owl Tyto javanica southeast Asia and Australasia.
Andaman Masked Owl SS.jpg Andaman masked owl Tyto deroepstorffi southern Andaman Islands
Tyto glaucops.jpg Ashy-faced owl Tyto glaucops Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Grass Owl adult.jpg African grass owl Tyto capensis southern Congo and northern Angola to the central coast of Mozambique and the other centred on South Africa from the Western Cape north to the southern extremities of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique.
Eastern-grass-owl-1134817.jpg Eastern grass owl Tyto longimembris eastern, southern and southeast Asia, parts of New Guinea, Australia (mainly in Queensland) and the western Pacific

Extinct species[edit]

Known from ancient fossils
  • Tyto sanctialbani (Middle - Late Miocene of C Europe) - formerly in Strix, includes T. campiterrae
  • Tyto robusta (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Gargano Peninsula, Italy)
  • Tyto gigantea (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Gargano Peninsula, Italy)
  • Tyto balearica (Late Miocene - Middle Pleistocene of WC Mediterranean)
  • Tyto mourerchauvireae (Middle Pleistocene of Sicily, Mediterranean)
  • Tyto jinniushanensis (Pleistocene of Jing Niu Shan, China)
  • Tyto sp. 1
  • Tyto sp. 2
Late prehistoric extinctions usually known from subfossil remains
Fossils of Tyto cavatica
Fossil of Tyto ostologa
  • Mussau barn owl (Tyto cf. novaehollandiae) found on Mussau[2]
  • New Ireland greater barn owl (Tyto cf. novaehollandiae) found on New Ireland
  • New Ireland lesser barn owl (Tyto cf. alba/aurantiaca) found on New Ireland[2]
  • New Caledonian barn owl (Tyto letocarti) found on New Caledonia - tentatively placed here
  • Puerto Rican barn owl (Tyto cavatica) found in Puerto Rico - may still have existed in 1912; possibly a subspecies of T. glaucops
  • Noel's barn owl (Tyto noeli) found in Cuba
  • Rivero's barn owl (Tyto riveroi) found in Cuba
  • Cuban barn owl (Tyto sp.) found in Cuba
  • Hispaniolan barn owl (Tyto ostologa) found on Hispaniola
  • Bahaman barn owl (Tyto pollens) found on Andros, Bahamas - may have survived to the 16th century
  • Barbuda barn owl (Tyto neddi) found on Barbuda, possibly Antigua
  • Maltese barn owl (Tyto melitensis) found in Malta - formerly in Strix, possibly paleosubspecies of Tyto alba

Former species[edit]

A number of owl fossils were at one time assigned to the present genus, but are nowadays placed elsewhere. While there are clear differences in osteology between true owls and barn-owls, there has been parallel evolution to some degree and thus isolated fossil bones cannot necessarily be assigned to either family without thorough study. Notably, the genus Strix has been misapplied by many early scientists as a "wastebin taxon" for many owls including Tyto.[3]

  • Tyto antiqua (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene of Quercy? - Early Miocene of France) was a barn-owl of the prehistoric genus Prosybris; this taxon might be a nomen nudum as the species was originally described in Strix this requires confirmation.[4]
  • Tyto edwardsi (Late Miocene of Grive-Saint-Alban, France) was a strigid owl but has not yet been reliably identified to genus; it might belong into Strix or the European Ninox-like group[citation needed].
  • Tyto ignota (Middle Miocene of Sansan, France) was a strigid owl of unclear affinities; while it might belong into Strix this requires confirmation.[4]
  • "TMT 164", a distal left tarsometatarsus of a supposed Tyto from the Middle Miocene Grive-Saint-Alban (France) might also belong into Prosybris as it is similar to Tyto antiqua.[5]


They are darker on the back than the front, usually an orange-brown colour, the front being a paler version of the back or mottled, although there is considerable variation even amongst species. Tyto owls have a divided, heart-shaped facial disc, and lack the ear-like tufts of feathers found in many other owls. Tyto owls tend to be larger than bay-owls. The name tyto (τυτώ) is onomatopeic Greek for owl.


  1. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Owls". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b Steadman (2006)
  3. ^ Mlíkovský (2002): p.217
  4. ^ a b Mlíkovský (2002)
  5. ^ Ballmann (1969)


  • Ballmann, Peter (1969). Les Oiseaux miocènes de la Grive-Saint-Alban (Isère) [The Miocene birds of Grive-Saint-Alban (Isère)]. Geobios 2: 157–204. [French with English abstract] doi:10.1016/S0016-6995(69)80005-7 (HTML abstract)
  • Bruce, M.D. (1999). Family Tytonidae (Barn-owls). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds): Handbook of Birds of the World Vol. 5 (Barn-owls to Hummingbirds): 34-75, plates 1-3. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-25-3
  • Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002). Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985). Section IX.C. Strigiformes. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 129-132. Academic Press, New York.
  • Steadman, David William (2006). Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-77142-3.

External Links[edit]

  • Media related to Tyto at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Tyto at Wikispecies