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the web of life in southern Africa

Tyto capensis (African grass-owl) 

Grasuil [Afrikaans]; Isikhova (also applied to Barn owl) [Xhosa]; isiKhova (also applied to Barn owl), umShwelele [Zulu]; Suunsu (also applied to Barn owl) [Kwangali]; Sephooko (also applied to Barn owl and Marsh owl) [South Sotho]; Makgohlo [North Sotho]; Zizi (generic name for owl) [Shona]; Musoho [Tsonga]; Lerubise (also applied to Marsh and Barn owls) [Tswana]; Kaapse grasuil [Dutch]; Effraie du Cap [French]; Graseule [German]; Coruja-do-capim [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Strigiformes > Family: Tytonidae

Tyto capensis (African grass-owl)   

African grass-owl, Johannesburg Zoo. [sourced from Wikipedia Commons]


Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Congo and northern Angola through southern DRC to Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is locally common in north-central Zimbabwe, western Mozambique, Swaziland and east-central South Africa. It generally prefers marshes and vleis with patches of tall rank grass, weeds or sedges, but it may also occupy fynbos, renosterveld and thorn scrub close to water.

Distribution of African grass-owl in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Largely resident, although it moves away if there is a fire or if a temporarily flooded habitat dries up.


Mainly eats rodents, foraging nocturnally by flying low over the ground, twisting its head in order to locate by sight and sound. Once prey is located it dives to the ground and picks it up with its talons, feeding on the ground or on a nearby perch. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Little known, but probably a monogamous territorial solitary nester.
  • The nest is an unlined depression in the ground placed among rank grass. It creates multiple tunnels through the grass branching out from the nest, so that it can move around undetected by other predators.
  • Egg-laying season is from November-July, peaking from January-April.
  • It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 32 days.
  • The chicks are brooded by the female for the first 10 days of their lives, while the male brings them food; thereafter both sexes have to hunt to provide for their growing young. At about 28-35 days old they start to navigate the tunnels through the grass surrounding the nest, learning to fly at approximately 49-55 days old and becoming fully independent about a month later.


Vulnerable in South Africa, largely caused by habitat degradation through ploughing, grazing, draining and burning; its population in the country is though to be less than 5000 individuals.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.