In the early ‘90’s, every night, there was this loud cackle like call which was harsh, chirupping and chuckling all at once — chirurr-chirurr-chirurr ending with achirwak-chirwak, from the Sacred Heart Church opposite our home. And I would reassure my little sons that it was ‘only’ an owl. Sometimes the bird flew in great undulating arcs, to the giant Peepul tree in the temple quadrangle behind our home and it would call out once or twice from there, its call echoing eerily in the still of the night.
“Then came the loss of all the huge Banyan, Peepul, Jamun and Tamarind trees in the city, and with the loss of the trees we lost a lot of our owl population,” said Imran Ali Khan the naturalist in the Serai, Bandipur. “They nest in holes in the large trunks of these trees and so we lost a lot owls along with other ‘hole’ nesting birds, especially on our highways.”
Nocturnal birds, most owls feed on insects and rodents and today they are making a come back as people are being educated that they are not omens of death and bad luck, like it was believed in the past. In fact, Harry Potter, the boy wizard had a pet owl and probably that is the reason for them being more accepted today.
Deepa Mohan, an avid birder says, “In my own apartment building, people poisoned one of the five barn owls that used to roost there. I had to talk to the people about their role in rodent control. They are considered birds of ill omen... not as the vahanas of Saraswati, which is sad,” she laments.
“It is amazing how unobtrusive owls are, but since I became a birder, rarely a day passes when I don’t see an owl. The IIM campus has its regular roosts of the spotted owls. These are truly the Rolls Royce of birds - the silent ghosts of the night,” says Sridhar Parthasarathy, avid photographer from HSR Layout.
Deepa goes on to explain that, “The barn owls have definitely increased as the rodent population in our city has exploded. The spotted owlets seem to be holding their own, while mottled wood owls are few and far between, but surprisingly, they can be found in the middle of the city (in Lalbagh, sometimes). Indian eagle owls are still to be found only in forested areas like Bannerghatta and Turahalli, even if this is near human habitation.”
When disturbed from their daytime snooze, owls bob their heads and stare at intruders with their forward facing eyes. “In my opinion, their combination of indignant or curious stare, impossibly angled head-tilt and hugely comical furry legs is hard to beat! I love photographing them, and delight in prowling around wooded areas or old ruins in search of these feathered friends,” shares Berenice da Gama Rose, accomplished concert pianist, who also enjoys photography. “In some cultures they are considered unlucky and frightening, while in others they’re revered or associated with wisdom.”
With Bangalore facing a problem with garbage disposal and the parallel problem of an increase in the rodent population, let’s look out for our yellow- eyed, noiseless hunters. Their services are for free, and thank Mother Nature for her quiet support.