Understand The Animals

Bombay`s Barn Owl

It was one of the usual days in the first week of June this year, when I returned from the Borivli National Park after helping a group of children explore the local flora and fauna. My colleague informed me that a lady from Andheri, a western suburb in Mumbai has been desperately calling us since early morning. The lady had left a message that a strange looking bird is seen in her gallery, which has a monkey like face and gives weird whistle. She guessed the bird as owl and was worried about it’s existence as it was a bad omen to have an owl at home. It happened to be a Barn owl also known as Screech owl, which is one of the 29 species of owls in the Indian region.

The incidences of Barn owls straying in the buildings have been reported quite often in the cities especially in Mumbai in last couple of years. The Barn owl which is active in the night and seen standing upright and dozing during daytime in deserted buildings, ancient forts and ruins. This bird has golden buff colour above and finely stippled black and white spots on its chest. The silky white colour is seen below tinged with spotted dark brown. Like most species of owls the Barn Owl depend as much on their ears as on their eyes to find their prey. The facial disc with a conspicuous ruff of stiff feathers radiating from eyes is believed to help in locating the sources of sounds with great precision. The soft plumage and some special modification of the flight feathers enable them to fly noiselessly and to take their prey by surprise. The powerful feet and strong needle sharp claws help Barn owl capture their prey with a great ease.

Being nocturnal (active during night), the owl depends upon the call notes for communication with others of their species. The shades of brown, grey, darker streaks splotches and spots on its body help the Owl camouflage in the surrounding and protect from its enemies during day time.

Nocturnal, ghostly, mysteriously noiseless in its movement, but endowed with eerie call notes, Owls have always been object of superstitious awe in our country and greatly persecuted. Nevertheless they perhaps have the highest claim for strict protection among all our birds, because of their inestimable service as destroyer of rodents, which are amongst our most serious agricultural pests.

Prashant Mahajan

" Every year, during peak nesting season ( October to March), young fluffy white owls appear roosting on the ledge below our roof. Their screeching noise makes it difficult for us to sleep. " says Salim, a resident of Kalyan Mansion, Dongri, Mumbai 9. Salim notifies BNHS the arrival of the birds and many like him seek advice on dealing with the birds by calling BNHS at 2821811/2821817.

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