Pel’s Fishing Owl

One of the top target birds in Africa for keen “twitchers” from all over the world is the Pel’s Fishing Owl Scotopelia peli. The species’ common and specific name honours HS Pel, who was governor of the Dutch Gold Coast (now Ghana) from 1840 till 1850.

Pel’s Fishing Owl

It is one of the largest owl species in the world (51 to 63 cm tall and weighing over 2 kilograms) and boasts a rich rufous colour with distinctive black eyes. Unlike the eagle-owls, the ear tufts of the Pel’s Fishing Owl are barely visible, giving it a very round-headed, earless appearance. It also lacks the facial disc that many other owl species have.

Although occurring widely south of the Sahara, it is a notoriously difficult species to find, as it prefers to hunt fish at night, sitting motionless in the tree canopy during the day. It prefers riverine forests with large trees, and therefore some of the best places to see it include Liwonde National Park in Malawi, the Okavango Delta and Caprivi Strip of northern Botswana and northeastern Namibia, as well as selected sites in South Africa, Cameroon and Gabon.

Although the name suggests that Pel’s Fishing Owl only eats fish, it does in fact also take frogs, crabs, freshwater mussels, large insects and even small Nile Crocodiles. On safari one of the best ways to locate this iconic bird is by its call: a low and deep, horn-like hoot, usually followed by a deep grunt, “hoooommmm-hut”. The call can be heard up to 3 kilometres away!

Although currently not globally threatened (Least Concern on the IUCN Red List), the number of Pel’s Fishing Owl are declining rapidly outside of protected areas. Destruction of riverine growth, damming and pollution of rivers, and cycles of drought are all leading to this decline in numbers.

Join one of our Malawi Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.