Last week, environmentalists sighted a short-eared owl near Sirudhavur forests off Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), nearly 20 years after the last sighting in the city.
E. Seshan and S. Ravi Chandran of Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating (EMAI) said the bird was found on grasslands near a water body. The bird, an open country owl, is named so for the short tuft feathers, resembling ears, on its head. These tuft feathers are very conspicuous especially when the bird is alarmed or taken by surprise.
Unlike other owl species, short-eared owls hunt by night and day, said K. Gnanaskandan, member, Madras Naturalists’ Society.
As per records, they are both diurnal and crepuscular (active during twilight) as well. The bird usually flies close to the ground, looking for potential prey — rodents, reptiles, ground-dwelling birds and insects like locusts.
The semi-dry lake bed and grassy scrub of Siruthavur has good rodent and reptile population which may have attracted the owl, he said.
V. Santharam, director, Institute of Bird Studies and Natural History, Rishi Valley, said Chennai city was once home to six species of owls — Collared Scops owl, Eurasian eagle owl, mottled wood owl, spotted owlet, brown hawk owl and barn owl.
Collared Scops owl was fairly common and seen in Guindy, and IIT-Madras and Theosophical Society campuses, besides other wooded areas. The second species is restricted to hilly and rocky scrub areas such as Nanmangalam forest reserve.
Only historical records of mottled wood owl were available, which indicated they were found in Singaperumal Koil and Red hills. This has been mentioned in the Guide to Birds of the Madras Museum Gallery (1970), he said.
The spotted owlet is still common and seen in well-wooded gardens in the city, while the brown hawk owl is not common and is seen only at Theosophical Society and Guindy National Park campuses.
Barn owl is commonly found in houses where they seek refuge after being chased by crows. They can be sighted in the evening on Marina beach, he said.
Keywords: owl species