Owls are my choice of topic for November mainly because so many have come into care recently. There are only ten species in Australia and they fall into two genera or groups. ‘Tyto’ are commonly called barn owls while ‘Ninox’ are hawk owls which basically lack the oval facial discs found on barn owls.
The Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) is the largest owl in Australia and are known to lift their own weight when carrying off prey. Males reach a height of 65cm. They are on endangered lists across Australia with only an estimated population of two hundred breeding pairs left in the wilds of Victoria. They rarely come to ground for prey, living mainly on possums and gliders but also taking birds opportunistically. Breeding season here is during June with a nesting period of around nine weeks and a further dependency on parents for about six months.
This chick came into care last week after having been found on the ground during a bush walk. The condition of his eyes suggested head trauma. The bird tried but failed to lift off and from the way he crashed into some fencing suggested blindness. There was no sign of parents but it was mid-morning. Collision with a car seems unlikely because of the distance to the road and low rate of local traffic. Sometimes they raise two chicks and the stronger chick throws the weaker one out of the nest etc. In any case, this baby was vet checked and seemed fine except for the eyes, so, I have been feeding him up and will watch him for a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed that he has an option other than euthanasia.
There’s little chance of survival in the wild but with a species this rare and special, often a zoo or sanctuary will take them and maybe breed them so their chicks go back to the wild. One of the most spectacular features of this breed is the vivid yellow circles around black pupils in the eyes – you can see even in my amateur photo’s the damage done to those.
Barn owl (Tyto alba) can be difficult to differentiate with masked owls at this young age, – it’s impossible to tell without knowing the age and being able to confirm via weight etc. In any case this baby was picked up by a man on a push-bike who watched a flock of ravens swooping, pecking and hassling it. It seemed to be running scared and eventually fell into the lake where he was certain it was all over.
Then, one wing appeared and began flapping as it dragged itself out of the water and onto dry land. The Ravens came back screeching but the cyclist decided not to leave it to nature and interfered by throwing his towel over the owl and performing a rescue. Again, not sure what the rest of the story was, but the bird ate heartily for a few days and late one night was returned to his home turf, where hopefully his parents were waiting.
Masked Owls (Tyto novaehollandiae) As you can see from my profile picture this month, the facial disc is very similar to that of the barn owl above, but this species is larger and that heart-shaped mask over the face is more obvious. This juvenile was caught in a barbed-wire fence, probably practising his hunting skills on rabbits. Originally thought to be dead, this beautiful baby was vet-checked for fractures and then had his scratches cleaned while limp and exhausted. They often faint when stressed by being captured. Rehydration soon had him perching again and two weeks later he was successfully released back into his home range.Tawny Frogmouth owls (Podargus strigoides)
These are not really owls despite their common name. They don’t have the talons and the beak is all wrong. These insectivores are very common and come into care often as a result of hunting bugs which fly towards headlights of moving cars. So busy looking at the bugs they don’t see the vehicle at all. Most of the time they stretch out and become statue still, avoiding detection by pretending to be part of a dead tree branch. This pair was lucky to escape with headaches and were released within a few days.
That’s it for this month, hope you enjoyed meeting some of my favourite birds…
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Until next time, be well.