Below follows a translated and abbreviated version of an article that appeared in Leefstyl Rapport on 25 September 2011.
Many fables of wise old owls and old wives’ tales are being told about owls. Few of us realise that owls are in fact wonderful exotic night birds that assist in controlling mice, rat and mole populations. They have excellent eyesight and hearing and a noiseless flight. They are by far the most well known night birds, and as they use existing nests such as hollowed out tree trunks, chances are good that owls in your environment will move into an owl house, should you decide to put one in your garden. Mainly two owl species will move into owl houses: the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and the Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus). The latter is most common in residential built-up areas, while the Barn Owl frequents open spaces, such as farms and smallholdings. Even in Gauteng’s residential areas owls are quite common. Owl species such as the Grass owl (Tyto capensis) is critically endangered. The Spotted Eagle Owl is one of the most well known African owls and can be found from Kenya and Uganda, as well as all over South Africa.
Nowadays, owls’ biggest threat is rodent poisons. Chemical substances used to control mice and other rodents are often found in owl livers. Many of the new toxins prevent coagulation, which means that mice and rats will bleed to death. As they don’t die immediately and spend quite a while outside their nests, owls will catch and feast on them, thereby absorbing some of the toxins. People should be aware of the dangers of such toxins and rather attempt to attract some owls to their properties, if they do have a rodent problem.
If you ever come across an injured owl, please contact the Owl Rescue Centre. Be aware that these birds can easily die of shock and should not be handled much. Cover the owl with a towel and place it in a carboard box until such time as a trained handler can attend to it (Owl Rescue Centre, 082 719 5463 or visit their web site: www.owlrescue911.webs.com)
The cuckoo lays its eggs in another bird’s nest and is raised by foster parents. When the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes the other eggs and young from their nest.
Their food consists of hairy caterpillars, ants, crickets, beetles, dragon flies, termites and grasshoppers, and their favourite habitat is dry, open savanna woodlands and grassland with scattered trees.
They hop or walk on the ground, are unobtrusive and generally overlooked, but often draw attention by means of loud calls. Usually, they can be found in pairs and occasionally in groups of three to four.
Our second story refers to Redwinged Starlings (Onychognathus morio) and Indian Mynas (Acridotheres tristis).
Large groups of Indian Mynas were spotted in the Conservancy this year, as well as in the northern provinces. As we know, they chase away other bird species, and are also known to peck out chameleons’ eyes.
We noticed that when Redwinged Starlings appear, the Indian Mynas disappear. It will be interesting to know whether this behaviour has been noticed by some of our Conservancy members.
Please let us know: Deon (082 856 3183) or Liz (082 880 9297).
Rina de Jong, one of our committee members, is an avid bird lover and enjoys bird watching in her garden.
About two weeks ago, she noticed a sugarbird (witpens suikerbekkie) constructing a nest in a creeper near the house.
We thought that birding enthusiasts in the Conservancy might be interested in the fact that, a couple of weeks ago, when we were returning home from Maanhaarrand, a few kilometres after turning off the Rustenburg Road onto the Hekpoort Road, we spotted a Longcrested Eagle (Langkuifarend) sitting on a telephone pole next to the road.
Owls living in and around Johannesburg are challenged by a shortage of â€œsuitableâ€ nest sites. As a consequence, hundreds of young owls are brought to rehabilitation centres around Johannesburg every year, having fallen out of inappropriate nest sites.
Conservancies are an ideal location for the installation of owl boxes.
Owls in occupied boxes are great at controlling rodent populations. A breeding pair of Barn owls can feast on as many as 2 500 rats a season, and as a result, these birds represent a fantastic alternative to rat poisons for controlling rats, particularly in areas where conservation of the environment is a priority.
EcoSolutions have had great success in neighbouring conservancies, such as Rhenosterspruit, and feel that our Conservancy might also be interested in joining the owl project (The Owl Box Project Newsletter, third quarter 2007).
How about building your own owl box?