The dwindling owl population a concern

The dwindling owl population a concern.

-Ajay Gadikar

Owls are revered as the carrier of Lakshmi, the deity of wealth. However, at the same time, owls are feared as the symbol of ill omen in several literary texts. Come Diwali and a vast number of owls are caught and sacrificed every year in many cities. Each year the forest dept keeps vigil on trading of illegal body parts of owl at some suspected pockets.  
Two years back I was called upon by the forest dept to identify the body parts of different owls which they had seized from some traders. It was a pitiable scenario with so many owl parts (feathers /nails /beak etc) scattered on the table, all these owls must have been captured and killed for black magic.
Many of the owl species are facing population decline in Indore city.  While visiting the different areas of the city while preparing the list of birds found in Indore division for the forest, I noticed that the owl habitats are vanishing fast.
There are seven species of owl found in Indore city and its outskirts. 
1.Spotted Owl
2.Barn Owl
3.Rock Eagle Owl
4.Mottled Wood Owl
5.Jungle Owlet
6.Collared Scops Owl
7.Short eared owl

Spotted Owl: They are the one most easily spotted. Earlier I had used to see them regularly at 10 different locations in well wooded gardens and farmlands at city fringes, but slowly they got lost from all those places except one.

Barn Owl: This owl has a white face contrasting to its brown body parts.  At night it looks very fearsome. This owl is easily adaptable to the urban areas but now its count has also decreased.

Indian Eagle Owl: This species is the largest of owls found at the city outskirts.  Mostly it remains at the edges of the city, where he gets most of the food in the form of rodents.  It spends the day under the shelter of a bush or in some large foliaged tree near villages. 

Mottled wood Owl, Jungle Owlet and collared scops owl (seen above) are mostly found in forest areas. They are frequently seen in Kajligarh forest area under choral forest range.

Short eared owl is a winter migrant in our area and is regularly seen around Sirpurlake during winter months.

Owls being nocturnal, are not seen very easily in day time.  During  day time they just relax at their secluded places away from their hunting places.  Once spotted in day time by any bird they are fiercely chased and mobbed away by drongos and crows.  All of the owl species are protected  under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. They are included in schedule IV of the act.
However, the practice of capturing owls for various purposes is prevalent.  Each year, cases of owls seized from hunters and traders are reported from different areas.  Many people in the citystill sacrifice these birds, subscribing to the myth that the practice brings wealth.
The widespread use of these enchanting birds in black magic and sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos is one of the prime forces responsible for the decline of this group of birds. Owls have highest demand in the grey market.
Actually owl is a very beneficial bird for the farmers.  It consumes many rodents and protects the damage caused to the grains and plays a vital role in pest control.

Interesting facts about owls - Owls cannot move their eyes within their sockets. This means they have to turn their head to see in a different direction. Not all owls can hoot. Owls make a wide variety of sounds, including hisses, screeches and screams. Not all owls are nocturnal. Some species, such as the Short-eared Owl, flies in the daytime. An owl has three eyelids: one for blinking, one for sleeping and one for keeping the eye clean and healthy. A group of owls is called a parliament.

( Text and photographs by Ajay Gadikar.  Ajay Gadikar is an  Ornithologist from Indore.) 

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