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Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus)
What is the Problem?
This nocturnal bird of prey does not build nests but makes use of suitable sites. Those appropriate sites are often destroyed due to the ever-encroaching urbanisation into the owls hunting grounds. As eagle-owls are territorial, they are forced to live alongside us in urban areas, which makes survival challenging for several reasons.
Where there are people, there are rats. Eagle owls are predators of pest species. People poison rats and mice. Owls find the carcasses and feed their chicks with them. The entire owl family suffers an excruciating death by secondary poisoning. Please do not use poisons to get rid of vermin. Instead, put up a nesting box and let the owls take care of the problem the natural way.
Existing nests are often destroyed on purpose. There are many legends and myths surrounding these birds, and many cultures fear them. Historically it was believed that if an eagle-owl roosted on your roof, it would surely mean a death in the family. This has given rise to unfounded superstitions, which threaten their existence in the wild too.
The fact that owls like to perch on telephone and electricity poles along the main streets is the cause of many casualties among them. At night when cars flatten insects, rodents and lizards on the road, the owls will come down to the road surface to feed on the prey remains and are subsequently hit by passing vehicles. Owl’s eyes don’t reflect in the car lights, making them invisible at night.
Owls play a vital role in our ecosystem, and it is essential to safeguard them before there is a knock-on effect that will have severe environmental implications.
When is a good time to put up a Nesting Box?
Eggs are laid in late winter to spring (August to October).
Tania Robson from the Radical Raptors Society recommends:
“Install boxes now … It might take owls a good while to see it and scout it out as a possible breeding nest. Winter is approaching so this gives them time to look and find nests for when spring hits. So there is no time like the present.”
Location of Nesting Box:
- 4 – 6 m above the ground, avoid direct sun.
- Install the box out of any prevailing wind.
- Have a clear flight-path to the nest.
- Be in a quiet area.
- Do not attempt to lure owls to the site with food; this will only encourage other animals and deter the owl.
Owl Identification and Behaviour:
The eagle owl is the most common South African owl. A distinguishing feature is the long and prominent ear tufts, but these are purely for show, as they have nothing to do with the actual ears.
Their wingspan is about 1 meter.
The male calls with two hoots: “Hooo hooopoooo” and the female answers with three.
If you ever see one bob its head up and down or from side-to-side while looking at you, it is trying to get a more precise, three-dimensional picture of you.
References and further reading:
- South African National Biodiversity Institute SANBI
- Ginn, P.S., McIlleron, W.G. & Milstein, P. Le S. Compilers, 1989. The Complete Book of Southern Africa Birds. Struik Winchester.
- Sinclair, I., Hockey, P. & Tarboton, W. 2002. Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, 3rd edition. Struik.
- Steyn, P. 2009. A Delight of Owls: African Owls Observed. Jacana Media.
- Steyn, P. 2012. Spotted Eagle Owl fact file, an extract from an article in Promerops No 292, November 2012.
- Tarboton, W. & Erasmus, R. 1998. Owls and Owling in Southern Africa. Struik.
- He can hear mice walk – Village Life
- Radical Raptors. Birds of Prey Rehabilitation & Awareness Centre