Author: Madre du Plessis
28 February 2012
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.