Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An evil bird? No, a wise Owl!

Then, in the heart of  our town we didn't hear any sounds overnight during our sleep. There were no disturbances except for an occasional terrorizing sound - the screeching of owls! We consider here the owl's sounds heard at midnight as portending the presence of ghosts, and a bad omen. But in the modern West and the ancient Greece it is considered as to be a wise bird! What we see here in our town itself is the Spotted Owlet (Athene brama, 'Aanthai' in Tamil). It is a small bird of prey having the size of a dove. It is totally nocturnal.

The bird cannot be spotted at daytime; it is seen rarely only -  if we scan the dark corner of buildings. It has special adaptations for its night hunting: large eyes on the front of a wide face, unlike other birds. Such arrangement of the eyes gives it a stereoscopic vision as we have. Owl rotates its head in 270 degrees on its both sides and back as its eyes are fixed and cannot rotate! It flies without making any noise; its flight feathers are specially designed for that purpose. It has also specialized external ears that are positioned asymmetrically to locate the preys' direction through  their sounds. Strong beak helps to tear the skin of the prey like scissors. Powerful talons kill the prey by crushing its skull. Then they knead its body into a mass that shall be swallowed entirely! On one day near a church wall I saw some pellets consisting of small bones and hairs. With that I was able to infer the presence of an owl nearby. These pellets are the regurgitated undigested matter of the prey's body parts! The owl is dull coloured for merging with its environment - a camouflaging adaptation. With this it becomes invisible to its prey aiding for stealth hunting. Its diets are small rodents and insects. It nests in holes. About 3 to 4  white eggs are laid. The chicks are fed with insects; they leave out the nest in 4 weeks time. I have seen owl chicks in an unused cardboard box left on a loft!
This wonder bird having a human-like face, is well armed, clever and skilled through its adaptation for its night living! We need not be scarred by its sounds, 'cheieer-cheieer-cheieer,' as they are the communicating sounds between its community members.

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