Myths and superstition have been the lot of these nocturnal hunters. Owls have adapted to feeding at night as they have developed acute hearing and their flight feathers are designed to support silent flight for stealthy swoops on their prey.
Our ancestors have feared these birds as harbingers of bad luck. The ghostly hoots and silent flight sent the shivers up many a spine. However, these birds are of great benefit to mankind, especially in the control of rodents around human dwellings.
The Spotted Eagle Owl, with its two erect ear tufts, occurs throughout southern Africa and is a well-known sight as they perch on fence posts in rural areas at dusk. These raptors have forward-facing eyes for accurately judging distance, as opposed to most birds that have eyes on the sides of the head. Many of these birds have adapted to life in suburban areas and are even known to nest in flowerboxes. They usually roost in leafy trees or on rocky ledges during the day while they try to escape the attention of small birds that tend to mob them in an attempt to force them to move out of the territory.
These owls are large, about 45 cm tall, and weigh about 700 grams. The male calls a deep hoo-hoo and the female may respond with hoo-hoohoo. They feed on a variety of prey items such as large insects, rodents, birds and small reptiles.
The nest is usually just a scrape on a rocky ledge, or sometimes on the ground. No nesting material is gathered. The clutch consists of two white eggs that take 30 days to hatch. The chicks are covered in white down and take a further 40 days before leaving the nest. They are still dependent on their parents for food for about another five weeks.
Many farmers and people living on large plots provide nesting boxes to encourage these birds to breed and hunt on the property. Eagle-Owls prefer boxes that are open on the sides, and if these boxes are placed in a site that is sheltered from the north-westerly rains, will be seen as prime estate. If you would like to build your own owl-box then information is available at http://www.birdlife.org.za/stuff/build-your-own-owl-house
Camouflage and stealth are definitely not in the male Southern Red Bishop’s vocabulary during the breeding season! Breeding plumage consists of bright red and pitch black feathers that are shown off at their best from a prominent perch while attracting further attention by making loud swizzeling sounds. At times the male gets so carried away that he can be seen hanging horizontally or almost upside down between bursts of scuttling up-and-down a reed stem. The female, as typical of bishops, is a drab bird and has brown streaking and broad dull yellow eyebrows.
These birds feed mainly on seeds collected from plants or on the ground, but can cause damage to wheat and millet crops. They are also able to catch large insects like dragonflies and damselflies.
Red Bishops occur throughout southern Africa where reedbeds are found in permanent water. Males build a number of nests from grass strips within their small territory and hope to attract multiple females. Breeding colonies may contain hundreds of birds with the brightly coloured males busily flying around with puffed-out feathers like huge bumble bees.
The neatly woven nest built by the male and is suspended between two reed stems and has an entrance on the side. The female will later add some soft material for lining. Two to four plain blue eggs are laid per clutch, which is incubated by the female. The eggs hatch after12 days and are fed regurgitated seeds and insects by the female only. The chicks, which resemble their drab mother, leave the nest after 14 days.
The male bishops are always alert at the breeding colonies because their broods are parasitized by the brightly coloured green-and-white Diderick Cuckoo. These cuckoos add a further element to the kaleidoscope of colour around the reedbed colonies containing the Red Bishops and the yellow shades belonging to Cape or Southern Masked-Weavers.