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Shelley's eagle-owl
Shelley's eagle-owl0 locationsBird
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FamilyStrigidae - Owls
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Bubo shelleyi

Creator:John Gerrard Keulemans
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
This dark eagle-owl is among the largest owls in the world and by far the largest eagle-owl found in the African rainforests. The total length of the species is 21 to 24 in. The wing chord measured from 16.5 to 19.4 in, the tail measures 9.2 to 10.5 in, the tarsus at 3.0 to 3.3 in and the total bill at 2.2 to 2.4 in. A single male was reported to have weighed 2.771 lb, with females presumably attaining rather higher weights. Going on standard measurements, the Shelley's eagle-owl would appear to be even larger than the aforementioned total length and body mass would suggest. In the key aspects of wing and tarsal lengths, Shelley's eagle-owl would appear to be broadly similar in size to the Verreaux's eagle-owl, which is usually considered to be Africa's largest owl species, and it may be one of the largest tropical owls in the world. The bill of the Shelley's is proportionally massive and seemingly the second longest of any living owl behind only the Blakiston's fish owl.

It is dark sooty black-brown above overlaid with light barring. The underparts are whitish with heavy dark barring. Lighter and darker morphs are known. The light morphs have an off-white to pale tawny facial disc, with a prominent rim marked with a blackish-brown border. In the light morph, the crown and mantle are dusky brown overlaid with buffy-whitish bars. The dark morph is much darker brown above with sparse orange-buff barring, a darker facial disc and a scaly looking brownish chest. The tail and the flight feathers of all are barred with brownish colouration of light and dark. The eyes are dark brown and the feet and almost the entirety of the toes are feathered. The juvenile of the Shelley's eagle-owl has large areas of white about the head with sooty barring.

It is the only large, heavily built, eagle owl in Africa with such barred patterning. Other eagle-owls co-exist with the Shelley's eagle-owl in the rainforest but conspicuously differ in most outward respects. The Akun eagle-owl is much smaller and less barred with pale yellow eyes and bare, yellow toes. Fraser's eagle-owl is also considerably smaller, has less barring, a warmer tawny overall colouration, and bare, bluish-grey toes. The similarly sized Verreaux's eagle-owl does not usually co-exist but some abutting ranges in West Africa may occur. The Verreaux's does not occurs in deep forest and the Shelley's has never been recorded outside of it but its conceivable that either may seldom visit Forest-savanna mosaics. If overlaps do occur, the Verreaux's is significantly paler, subtler and greyer with conspicuous pink eyelids.

Distribution and habitat
This species is found in Central and Western Africa. It has been found in widely scattered locations, perhaps isolated by habitat destruction. One isolated population is thought to live in a small area centered in inland Liberia as well adjacent extreme southeast Sierra Leone, western Ivory Coast and the southeastern tips of Guinea. An isolated population may persist in a spot of southern Ghana. The largest probable population is in all of southern Cameroon (also possibly extreme southern Nigeria), much of the non-coastal parts of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, the northern and southern parts of the Republic of the Congo and a large swath of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, perhaps reaching extreme eastern Uganda. It is a resident of lowland, tropical rainforests and has never been collected outside densely forested and old growth areas.

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