Barking Owl swooping
Last week I featured most of Australia’s majestic daytime raptors, and this week I will showcase but five of our ten Owls. The reason I have so few is that we do not go night birding and my collection is of birds seen during the daytime usually resting deep inside trees out of general sight. The Owl takes over at night while the Eagles, Kites, Falcons, Harriers, Kestrels etc. sleep, continuing to prey on small birds and animals. These kings of the night have some different characteristics to their daytime cousins, but first lets list features in common which they share.
Let’s use the Barking Owl pictured above as an example, to list the similar defining features of a raptor:
⇒ Superior Eyesight with binocular telescopic vision
⇒ Hooked beak for tearing flesh (swallows prey in pieces)
⇒ Powerful Legs and Talons used to kill and carry prey
⇒ Large powerful wings
⇒ Nests in tree hollows
⇒ Tactically hunts its prey consisting of birds, small animals and reptiles.
Let’s now list the differences that intelligent design has granted this killing machine:
⇒ They have large eyes able to see in very dim light. The large retina has many more light receptors but is unable to see in total darkness.
⇒ They do not ride the thermals and generally do not hunt by day but hunt by night and sleep by day.
⇒ They generally sit and wait for their prey to come near to them and do not fly or hover searching for their prey.
⇒ They have extra soft feathers which allow them to take off and fly silently, enabling them to successfully stalk their prey.
⇒ They can rotate their head 180° without moving their body to observe surroundings.
Some may have wondered why it is called the Barking Owl, well…
It makes a barking like sound as you can hear. This one was seen at a Raptor Bird Show, and is a common inhabitant of the eastern Australian mainland.
The largest Owl in Australia is the Powerful Owl, which nests in several places near where I live. It is found along the east coast of NSW and Victoria, This owl lives up to its name and will feed on domestic and ferule cats, but mainly enjoys various species of Australian possums, as you can see below body remains of the previous night’s kill hanging from the talon. They eat the head of the animal and then display the remainder of their kill into the next day. He may give his partner some of the kill later, but they both catch some shut eye for now.
The owls help to keep the possum population under control, however, when the possum was introduced to New Zealand, the numbers exploded causing major concern as they did not have a natural predator. But they found a good use for their pelts which do make very warm gloves and winter attire. It makes up most of New Zealand’s roadkill. The owls sometimes wonder what the fuss is below and take a look:
Owls are known to return to the same tree each morning to rest until the hunting pickings become too slim or their privacy is challenged and they will move to another nearby park or forest.
I remember the first time my wife and I sighted a family of Powerful Owl resting high up in a tall eucalypt well away from anyone. We saw the two juvenile looking at us and I said to my wife “Hey, there looks to be 2 Meerkats in the tree looking at me !” We saw the parents sleeping in a nearby tree well out of sight.
Another more commonly seen owl in our local parks is the Southern Boobook which again I have only seen in daylight, usually sleeping inside a tree hollow or perched nearby it as it prepares to go hunting in the evening. This owl is found all over the mainland and also Tasmania. I have lightened up the photo so you can see the bird in the tree hollow. Passers by have no idea it was there. When they look into the hollow all they see is darkness. A few weeks after this photo a swam of native bees took over the hollow and Mr Boobook was gone. In my next book I will use this bird to demonstrate the importance of shedding light on our understanding and improving our perception. One of the fine points of recent digital camera sensors is the much higher ISO (light sensitivity) settings now possible.
I always find Owls difficult to get good photos of in the wild and have to doctor up my photos. As a rule I do not use flash on birds as I respect their well being, especially night birds which can suffer blindness for days, though I know of some photographers rather than bird lovers, that use flash at night on birds to get that perfect photo. Many Penguins die for the same reason, blinded by the light and unable to find their way safely to their burrow.
Another very common Owl, probably the most common both all over Australia and world wide, as it is an introduced species, is the Barn Owl. I can remember when I lived out in the country up north on my rural property walking to the neighbour’s gate to pay a visit at night and as I go to open the gate I get this shock as this brilliant white object flies off the gate almost into my face off into the night with barely a sound.
This is the only Owl featured in my book “What Birds Teach Us” as the very last bird and was only included at that stage because a dear friend said her niece loved owls so I needed one. I would include the Powerful Owl if I were to do a 3rd Edition. This is the famous wise poem, by an unknown author, which I quote as my book’s last word:
A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?
The above photo will be familiar to those who have my book as the Owl flies from its nesting hole.
Our last Owl is one of Australia’s less seen and rarer Owls found only in far northern Australia and in the Queensland rainforests. We were blessed to see this pair of Rufous Owls resting in a very tall native fig tree in one of the residential parks in Cairns. They were extremely high up and hidden from the light as our photos show, having to have some post production work. We just happened to meet a local birder who knew exactly where these birds were otherwise there was no way anyone could have found them.
The male, as also with the Powerful Owl, is larger than the female and seen usually hanging its prey as in the above photos. It was a neck breaking experience to get these shots.
Well that concludes our little Raptor stint, maybe one day I will see the others to share with you.
Have a wonderful weekend, we are going away for a few days to celebrate our wedding anniversary and may be do some birding along the way. Stay safe and do someone a random act of kindness each day, and notice the difference it makes.
Let’s take onboard the wisdom of the Owl as the poem above suggests. It is by watching and listening that we do most of our learning. As a male of the species I have learnt over the years and from my family counselling studies that the answer is not to necessarily solve our partners problems for her when she shares her heart, and give a quick fix, but to just shut-up and listen and empathize. Those who watch and observe are best scientists, inventors, leaders and politicians, not those who think they have all the answers and cut off and interrupt the sharer before the person finishes speaking. In my book the Superb Lyrebird was featured to share the qualities of active listening, but for the Owls it is how they get their food each night, a matter of life or death, as it is not safe to be flying through thick trees in the dark. As Epictetus is quoted: ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. ‘ He was a Greek philosopher who spent his youth as a slave in Rome before gaining freedom after the death of Nero, under whom he served until around 60 AD.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” – James 1:19 (NIV)
Suffering Job addresses his so called friends as they accuse and give foolish advice when all he wanted was some compassion, empathy and understanding:
“If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” – Job 13:5
Wise King Solomon is quoted saying there is a time for everything under heaven:
“a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,” – Ecclesiastes 3:7
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” – Proverbs 18:2
W. A. Hewson (Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy).
‘To introduce people to our unique Australian birds,
So we can learn from them how to live a healthy and happy life.’
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.