September 2023

Owls

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Owls

Today I want to talk about the owls and their interesting lifestyle, behaviour and superstitions that surround them.
Owls can be found in nearly every environment in the world, all of the roughly 250 owl species live above ground, except for one specie, the burrowing owl and this specie does not exist on the African continent but is found in North and South America.

Owls are divided into two families: Tytonidae which includes a few species of barn owls, and Strigidae which includes other owls’ species. Species vary by size, pattern and coloration and every owl has two features distinct to raptors being sharp talons and hooked beaks - adaptations and others which help them hunt animals with incredible skills and efficiency like other birds of prey.

Most owls eat mainly small rodents as well as birds, fish, insects and larger creatures like young antelopes.
Some owls hunt during the day or at dusk but the majority pursue prey in the evening helped by their ultra- sensitive hearing and excellent night vision.

Owls are toothless like other birds therefore they swallow their prey whole or in large chunks and later cough up pellets of indigestible hair and bones. Owls lay up to 14 eggs per brood depending on the species and availability of food. Parents work together to raise their young, and the male delivers food to the female who breaks it up for the little ones. The owlets begin exploring outside the nest after seven to twelve weeks, again depending on the species, and permanently go off on their own a few weeks later.
Owls’ population have shrunk around the world as their habitat has been destroyed for agriculture and human development.

There are many superstitions about owls. In some cultures they are seen as wise birds that know everything, whereas in other cultures they are associated with death and witchcraft. As they are generally nocturnal birds they are often considered to be mysterious. Many people, especially African people, tend to associate owls with superstition, and many African folktales describe them as signs of evil. It is believed that if an owl lands on the roof or in a tree nearby your house and hoots, it is a sign that something really bad might happen to your family, such as illness or death. If this happens, the family has to consult a traditional healer to find out the possible repercussions and remedies.

But on a positive note, owls play an important role in our ecosystem as they control rodent populations, reducing the amount of food lost each year to rodents.

This is a picture of one of the common owls in our area of operation, being Sabi Sand Game Reserve, the Verreaux’s eagle-owl. Notice its beautiful pink eyelids.

Johan Ndlovu
By Johan Ndlovu
Field Guide