RV Matters - 8 July 2019

For the last several months I did not hear even hear a single hoot, let alone the loud, quavering vocalisations they make at dusk as they break their roost. For a while, I believed like its larger cousins, the Mottled Wood Owl too had abandoned the valley following the severe drought-like conditions induced by the failure of the North-east monsoon last year, leading to a prolonged dry spell.

On the last day of June, the group of birdwatchers were surprised to see two large raptorial birds take off from a Tamarind tree under which they were standing. Even before they could recover from it, someone pointed out to a third bird perched on a branch, directly above us, immobile and staring at us with its huge dark eyes.

From its plumage colouration, it was evident the bird was a young one, recently fledged but not yet independent and capable of flying long distances. It regarded us with its large, liquid eyes and followed our movements as we took in our fill of the bird, which is never easy to observe for long periods of time.

We could hear several remarks expressing wonder and awe on seeing this owl, which is bigger than a Large-billed (Jungle) Crow but stouter and plump. One of the students remarked that unlike the cute, adorable looks of the Spotted Owlet, this owl had a sinister look and was frightening to behold!

Mottled Wood Owls have been a part of our rural landscape and play a vital role in containing populations of rodents that threaten our food production. We used to see them on the Big Banyan tree (BBT) years ago and promptly at dusk, they would let out their loud calls and hoots. For a while they roosted near the Junior School. I have also seen them in mango orchards, on densely foliaged branches.

Being nocturnal, they are subject to harassment at day by birds like the crows and treepies and so need quiter places to retreat. We need to keep this in mind while planning our usage of the land in our campus and set aside quieter, densely wooded areas for such shy denizens.

Dr Santharam