Fact check: Viral image claiming to show Madagascar red owl is digital art

The claim: Image shows a red owl from Madagascar

A viral image recently shared to social media purports to show a bright red owl from Madagascar.

“Red owl from Madagascar,” reads the caption of the owl, which has bright red feathers and black glossy eyes. The image was shared to the Facebook page Relaxing Mood on April 3 and has over 400 shares and 1,000 reactions.

Users commented, writing, “How beautiful” and “Breathtaking.” One user pointed out that the purported owl looked like Red from Angry Birds.

Similar versions of the claim have been shared through the years, with the earliest post dating to October 2019.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook users for comment.

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Image was created by a digital artist

A reverse Google image search shows that the photo was created by digital artist Mike Shachook and published to the site Deviant Art, a digital art sharing platform, in November 2017.

The artist wrote in the caption that the image is not a Madagascar red owl or a hoax and that it is “a quick fusion of an owl and a cardinal.”

“About 3 years ago I made a speed paint fusion of a cardinal and an owl because I accidentally said ‘cardnowl’ and thought it was funny,” Shachook wrote in the caption of a similar red owl photo. “I didn’t think the image would really amount to much as it only took somewhere between 1-2 hours to complete and looked a bit wonky in some areas.”

He said a fact-checking agency contacted him and informed him that his image had gone viral on the internet alongside the claim that it was a red bird known as a Madagascar red owl. 

In 2019, Shachook also commented on one of the Facebook claims confirming that the photo the user shared is a speed paint of a cardinal and owl fusion created years ago. 

USA TODAY reached out to Shackook for comment. 

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The Madagascar red owl

While the owl seen in the image is not authentic, there is such a thing as a Madagascar red owl, also known as the soumagnes grass owl. 

The Madagascar red owl is medium-sized with an “overall ochre-reddish to yellow-ochre colour,” according to Owl Pages. Its upper parts have dark spots that become larger near the tail and on the wings, and its eyes are black. 

The red owl eats small rodents and insects and nests in tree cavities in humid rainforests in northeast Madagascar. Genuine photos of the bird are available on ebird.org. 

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Our rating: False

An image claiming to show a red owl from Madagascar is FALSE, based on our research. The photo was created by a digital artist years ago by combining an image of an owl and a cardinal. The Madagascar red owl is a real animal, however, it is brownish yellow with dark black spots. 

Our fact-check sources: 

  • Deviant Art, Nov. 2, 2017, Cardnowl
  • Deviant Art, Sept. 19, 2020, Cardnowl 2
  • Owl Pages, accessed April 7, Madagascar Red Owl~ Tyto soumagnei
  • Bird.org, accessed April 7, Red Owl

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