Last Tuesday I went to an excellent talk on Powerful Owls, by Dr Beth Mott and Ronwyn North. I remembered afterwards that I’d not posted anything about my own owl sighting last year.
I had been walking along a path in a neighbouring suburb where I’d been told to watch out for an owl. A little way along I noticed a woman with a camera (who later turned out to be Ronwyn North!) intently observing something. I didn’t want to spook whatever it was, so I approached slowly. A Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) was in the trees. A long-held ambition of mine had just been realised.
I was told the owl had been harassed by currawongs earlier, but seemed to be settled now. Settled or not, it gave me a long hard stare, so after taking a few quick photos I moved a little further away to the side. From here, I could see that it was carrying its packed lunch, in the form of a ring-tailed possum:
It seemed ironic that this dead possum was gripped in the claws of a bird whose vest was adorned with markings resembling little love-hearts, but that’s nature for you.
After a while I came back to my original position, earning another long hard glare from the owl.
I made no further movement, and after a few minutes it seemed to accept that I wasn’t trying to steal its possum, and gradually relaxed.
It relaxed so much, it began to nod off….
… until eventually it was fast asleep….
… at which point I left it to its dreams. It was the least I could do as I had just had one of my own fulfilled.
Powerful owls are Australia’s largest owls, weighing up to 2 kg or more. Unusually for raptors, the male is slightly larger than the female. They are the top nocturnal predator in forested areas, feeding mostly on possums, but they will also take anything else suitably sized, including rats, cats, bats, koalas, mice, other birds and frogs. Their main weapons when hunting are their extremely powerful talons. They have quite an appetite, too - a breeding pair with one or two chicks to feed needs 3 or 4 possums each night. With this rate of consumption the chicks grow rapidly, fledging 6 weeks after hatching. However they cannot fly properly until some weeks later, and until then confine themselves to clambering around near the nesting hollow. At this stage, they are vulnerable to other predators if they fall to the ground.
These handsome owls are classified as “Vulnerable” in NSW and Victoria. In the wild, their range is primarily the forested areas in SE Australia. They are not very numerous – not unusual for apex predators – and it’s thought there might be 5,000– 10,000 birds in total. However this is one owl species that seems to cope fairly well in suburban environments as long as there are plenty of trees. There are certainly a number of owls living quite successfully in the suburbs and reserves in Sydney’s north, as “my” owl shows.
Note: The owl talk was part of a Talking Birds series hosted by Willoughby Council. You can find out more about the Powerful Owl Project at http://birdlife.org.au/projects/powerful-owl-project