Green Defenders

The Rescue of an Indian Eagle owl (Bubo bengalensis)

The Rescue of an Indian Eagle owl (Bubo bengalensis)

By: Ajay Gadikar

Most of the owl species are facing population decline across India. The widespread use of these birds in black magic driven by superstition and taboos is one of the prime reason for the decline of these birds,  Although all of the owl species are protected birds under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. 

Most  people actually don’t know that owls play a very beneficial and vital role by  way of pest control through their predation on mice and other rodents.

I am pleased to share an incident  that took place at my son’s school premises,  I have been taking him daily for his swimming workouts in morning around 5:30 AM since the last 4 years.  As he gets busy with his swimming workouts,   I used  to roam in nearby areas for bird watching.   One fine day just at  twilight,  I saw a big owl sitting on  a  top corner of the school building.  I recognized it to be an Indian eagle owl,  but it took some time for me to digest that I have seen an eagle owl, as these owls are generally found in rocky and lightly forested areas and seldom near human habitation.


Indian Eagle Owl

Further to my surprise I saw one more owl sitting at another corner of the school.   Now it became a daily routine for me to watch their activities at dawn when they  used to return from their night time feeding grounds (agriculture fields) to take shelter in the school building and remain there for the  whole day. 

On reading an article relating  to these owls’  breeding time I came to know that winter months are their breeding time.   Seeing a pair of owls increased my chances to observe their breeding behaviour and breeding ecology.  The time was perfect - it was November and the pair was seen to be indulging  in courtship behaviour. Later I came to know from other school staff that this pair of Indian Eagle Owl comes to breed in one of the makeshift hollows  situated in the school building premises,  Learning this,  I became very excited that this year also the pair has come for breeding. The place where they make the nest is so typical that it’s tough for anybody to reach  their nesting place easily.

Eagle Owl nest

Now I came  to see their courtship display daily,  in which they make some calls and many a times the male bird bringing food for the female in order to  gain her attention,   Later for some days I used to see only a single bird, I thought that the female must have laid the eggs in the makeshift nest cavity and hence must be busy in incubating the eggs.   It was absolutely not possible to see the eggs in the hollow and so I had no information about the number of eggs she had laid.   Only after a period of one month,  when the chicks started to peep outside, did I come  know that the pair was raising two chicks.

It’s now a daily routine to see the bird bringing kills of rodents, lizards, pigeons etc. to feed the young ones.  II have seen that every morning just before the day break they feed the chicks.  A month passes like this.  After that they started to  perch at their favourite places and call  the chick to come out and feed.   Now both the chicks had started to fly in the vicinity under the watchful eyes of their parents.  If the parents find any threat, they alert the chicks and  the chicks immediately respond  to their call and go back to their hiding places.

One day I saw only one of the baby owls sitting alone outside the nest and its parents and other chick nowhere near him.  When it happened the second day as well,  I thought that the parents would have moved with the earlier fledged chick to some other safer place and this chick being weak and not able to venture out with them would have remained here and they might take him later.

On the 3rd day, I found the baby owl sitting in a corner of the building,  may be the hunger would have forced him to venture in the open.  But venturing out without the safety of parents was going to be difficult, soon I found a pair of crows chasing the baby owl.  Crows are known to chase and harm birds of all sorts and they are very intolerant to owls specially.  They were continuously chasing the owl baby from one place to other and I also started following them.  After 30 minutes of continuous harassment the baby owl sat at one corner of the building and was looking very weak and vulnerable and seems to have  almost given up.   At that moment I thought of  intervening  to save the bird before  the crows kill him.

I immediately drove away the crows from there and kept standing  there.  The baby owl was sitting on one corner, I thought the crows might return back and harm him so I decided to pick him up from there and keep it at some safe place till his parents arrive.   I found that the appearance of the baby eagle owl was very frightening and to rescue by picking it was not an easy task for me.  So I called my son’s swimming coach and then we both picked  up the owl from the corner of the building and took it to a safer place near the swimming pool changing room.

The baby owl  after rescue.

The baby bird cooperated and remained at ease.  Then we tried to feed him by putting egg in front of him, but he did not eat, maybe he was still frightened of the things that happened in last hour or so, He did not even try to fly, so  we thought to let it be here for a day.  We decided that we should try to see if his parents come back in night and search for him.   As the swimming coach used to stay at the room beside the swimming pool he said that he will keep a watch on it.  But we didn’t require to wait very long.  As the day light faded one of the parents  came on top of the building and started making calls;   the chick responded immediately and tried  to get out of the makeshift room.  Soon in 2-3 attempts he came out of the room and hopped on to the  top of the room. 

The parent encouraged him to fly and then took him at some safer positon in one of the corner of the building.

We were very happy that now the baby owl is with his parent and safe, so a little human intervention had saved the life of the baby eagle owl.

The baby eagle owl in the wild after rescue.

Ajay Gadikar

(Avid Bird Watcher)

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