In the remote forest areas of Fiordland, one could think themselves crazy after hearing the maniacal laugh of an enigmatic bird. But this has been the case for many years as more and more reports surface about the Fiordland Laughing Owl.
Amidst the damp, dark & drizzly night sky, the weird cry of this bird could be heard echoing. Most commonly thought to live in the caves and crevices of the limestone rock fissures in the higher ranges, capturing eggs and birds remains a challenge.
The laughing owl was initially reported and published in 1845, and, although the birds were then relatively abundant, few specimens were collected due to their location.
Strangely, within forty years of the discovery the bird, the crazed human laughter sound mysteriously disappeared.
The Fiordland Laughing Owl was officially declared extinct in July 1914. The last recorded bird was found dead at Blue Cliffs, in Canterbury, NZ. However, reports about the Laughing Owl of Fiordland persist.
9 facts about the Fiordland Laughing Owl
Though whether or not the laughing owl stills exists remains a mystery, we do know a few things about this strange bird.
- It is 14-15” in height with a wingspan of 10.4”, categorizing it as a moderately sized owl.
- It’s clear call has been described as “a loud cry made up of a series of dismal shrieks frequently repeated”.
- Breeding season is in September or October. These months are favourable for nests of dried grass to be prepared on the ground, in rocky ledges or under boulders.
- The males were generally smaller than the females.
- It has a reddish brown plumage streaked with a darker brown color and with a white face.
- The calls were mainly heard on dark, drizzly nights or before a rainfall.
- It feeds on lizards, insects and small birds. It had developed long sturdy legs for chasing prey on foot, thus a ground feeder.
- It was abundant around 1845 and within 40 years, this mysterious bird had disappeared.
- The only physical proof of these birds that remains is 57 specimens and 17 eggs in public collections
Timeline of Sightings and Locations
Much like the Fiordland Moose and the Moa, over the years there have been reports of sightings and those who claim to have heard the owl. Here’s a list:
1925 – Unconfirmed sightings of Laughing Owls came in from the North Island.
1927 – One was supposedly heard at the Wairaumoana branch of Lake Waikaremoana when it flew over giving a weird maniacal cry.
1940s – A Laughing Owl was reportedly spotted in Pakahi near Opotiki (The Wandering Naturalist, Brian Parkinson)
1950 – There was a Manapouri sighting.
1956 – In the South Island, an unidentified bird was heard flying overhead and giving ‘a most unusual weird cry which might almost be described as maniacal’ at Saddle Hill, Fiordland, in February 1956 (Hall-Jones, 1960)
1960 – What appeared to be fresh eggshell fragments were found in the Canterbury region which gave hope that this species might still be out it the wild.
1985 – Travelers were sleeping in a forest, far from any other people in the small village of Cave, New Zealand, when they were awoken in their tent by ‘the sound of a madman laughing.’ They reportedly didn’t see anyone or hear any other sign that there was a person in their camp. The travellers hadn’t even heard of the Laughing Owl, and their story was never explained until many years later.
Various expeditions have been mounted to try and find the Laughing Owl, but the results have always been inconclusive. Sometimes, calls are heard, and occasional pellets and egg fragments have been found. So, who knows? If you listen closely enough, you might be one of the fortunate few who to experience the mysterious presence of the legendary Laughing Owl.