Owls have always had an influential grasp on our imagination. In mythology, legends and fables, they have been depicted as a symbol of wisdom, luck, omen and magic. However, they play an even important role in maintaining ecological balance. They keep a check on the growing population of small rodents and insects. Blessed with exceptional hearing skills and low-light vision, these raptors of the night prey on other nocturnal predators like weasels, bats, raccoons, shrews and various insect-eating birds. Despite the fact that owls hold a crucial place in food chain, they are declining in number. Use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and forestry coupled with rapid urbanization, are resulting in habitat loss.
There are more than 225 species of owl spread across the globe, with at least 34 types found in Indian subcontinent. A brief of very common ones are given below.
For more detailed information please check out this external website https://www.owlpages.com/owls/ ( Bonyo is not responsible for the information & contents)
Want to know more on threats and illegal trades of Owls in India? Check out this research study paper from WWF-India: http://awsassets.wwfindia.org/downloads/imperilled_custodians_of_the_night.pdf)
[picture courtesy: TRAFFIC India & WWF-India
Athene Brama, named after the ancient Greek Goddess of wisdom ‘Athena’, is a truly majestic creature commonly known as the Spotted Owlet. This owl breeds across tropical Asia except for Sri Lanka. Its length is barely 19-21 cm, the females being usually larger than males. The bottom part of this small bird of prey is white with brown streaks while the facial disc is pale with a white neckband and sans ear tufts. It has beautiful yellow iris. Apart from the size, both the genders look similar. The spotted owlet is largely a nocturnal raptor but it may also be called crepuscular as it can be sighted around twilight as well. It comes out from its roost before dusk and retires by dawn. They usually perch in pairs or small groups in the hollows of trees. It hunts a variety of insects like beetles, moths, earthworms, rodents, small birds, lizards, and other small vertebrates. ( picture courtesy: Subhasis Bhattacharya)
If you hear an eerie and croaky call, different from the hoots of other owls, a barn owl may be hiding in close proximity or passing by. Barn Owls or Tyto alba are one of the most widely distributed species across in the Indian Subcontinent. The word Tyto has been derived from 'tuto', meaning night in Greek and the word alba, corresponds to their dull white colour. This ghostly pale midsized (29-44 cm) lanky owl is a strikingly attractive predator with a whitish face and chest, long rounded wings and a short squarish tail. The females have a more reddish and heavily spotted chest. They hunt at night in open fields and meadows and during day, dwell in tree hollows, and also in old buildings and barns, thus living upto their name. Interestingly, they swallow their prey whole and about twice a day, they throw up pellets instead of passing the same through digestive tracts. Worldwide, there are as many as 46 different races of barn owl. ( picture courtesy: Subhasis Bhattacharya)
On a cloudy afternoon, if you ever spot a large brown owl with bushy hanging ear tufts near streams or river banks, high chances that you have found a Brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis). Though it is larger in size than other species, it is intermediate between other fish owls. The female owls are usually larger than the male ones. This predator has chestnut-brown streaked breast, dark brown barred flight and tail feathers and pale puffed throat which helps it easily camouflage with the woody branches of trees. It's indistinct facial disk with golden iris, greyish bill and heavy brows impart an arrogant demeanour. As semi-diurnal, these owls roost in large trees bordering water bodies or rice fields during the day and leaves much before sunset in search of prey. It grabs freshwater fishes, frogs and crabs with it's long legs while gliding across water. Brown fish owls also feed on smaller birds, rodents, beetles and reptiles. Being true to its name, this species of owl likes bathing frequently by dipping in shallows and puddles. It can be seen through out the year in tropical and sub-tropical regions of India and other parts of South East Asia. ( picture courtesy: Mrinmoy Bag)
The Collared Scops Owl (Otus lettia) is a part of the larger grouping of owls known as Strigidae. This species is chiefly found in northern regions of India and Pakistan and is partially migratory, with some birds wintering in other parts of India, Malaysia, Thailand and Srilanka. The Collared Scops Owl is primarily nocturnal and rarely seen during the day. It nests in well wooded areas on a densely foliaged branch or holes and cavities in trees by day, perched still and upright. Though it is the largest among scop owls, it is considerably small in size (23-25cm) and weighs around 100-170g, with females being heavier and larger than males. This species has small tufts or ears. The upperparts are either grey or brown with light buff spots. The bottom parts are buff with narrow dark streaks. The facial disc is pale with a buff neckband and has orange or brown eyes. Apart from the size, both genders look alike. Infact, collared scop owls appear to be very similar to Oriental Scop owls and Indian scop owls. They can be identified and distinguished based on their call. Collared Scops Owls emit a single soft hoot, usually repeated at intervals of 12-20 seconds. Their mellow singing may continue for over 15 minutes. Like other owls, beetles, grasshoppers, aquatic insects, lizards and small diets constitute its prey base. The flight of this nocturnal predator is deeply undulating thus enabling it to fly slowly while searching for prey. (picture courtesy: Mrinmoy Bag)