Rufous fishing owl
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Scotopelia
S. ussheri
Binomial name
Scotopelia ussheri

Sharpe, 1871

The rufous fishing owl (Scotopelia ussheri), rufous-backed fishing-owl or Ussher’s fishing owl, is a species of owl in the family Strigidae.


The rufous fishing owl is a large owl with dark eyes, which lacks ear tufts and has an indistinct, pale cinnamon facial disc and underparts. The mantle and back are rufous with a white row of spots on the scapulars. The flight feathers are barred. It measures 46 to 51 cm (18 to 20 in) in length, and has bare legs and feet.


A low, deep, moaning hoot, pairs may duet.

Distribution and habitat

The rufous fishing owl is endemic to west Africa. It is found in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests but there are records from plantations and may also be able to survive in secondary forest with small rivers if there is suitable gallery forest, where tree branches overhang the streams to provide fishing posts. It is threatened by habitat loss.


The habits of the rufous fishing owl are poorly known. It is thought to mainly eat fish, and catfish were recorded in the stomach contents of a specimen from Sierra Leone. It may also feed freshwater crabs among other food items. Eggs have been laid in Sierra Leone in September and October and juveniles moulting out of juvenile into adult plumage, roughly six months after fledging, have been recorded in Liberia in July. It is thought that a single chick is the normal brood size. The bird is probably mainly nocturnal but an individual was camera trapped in 2009 in Sierra Leone at midday.

Status and conservation

It was formerly classified as endangered by the IUCN, however newer research showed that it is not as rare as was once believed. Consequently, it was downlisted to vulnerable on the 2011 Red List of Threatened Species.


English naturalist Richard Bowdler Sharpe described the rufous fishing owl in 1871. It is one of three species in the genus Scotopelia. The person it is named after is a Governor Ussher who collected the original specimens Sharpe used in his description.