Naturalists say that the 280-hectare forest patch has been a known home for this species for nearly three decades

The orange-yellow eyes sparkle from a cliff inside the Nanmangalam forest. For a few minutes, the bird poses for the cameras and then flies away. This is the Eurasian Eagle Owl, which was formerly known as Indian Great Horned Owl.

Naturalists and bird-watchers say that the 280-hectare forest patch in Nanmangalam has been a known home for this owl species for nearly three decades. With increased protection in this reserved forest, the predatory birds are breeding well now, says K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan, of Nature Trust, who regularly follows the breeding of the owls in Nanmangalam.

“Earlier, bird-watchers used to inform the forest officials about the presence of this owl species inside Nanmangalam forest. But today even the forest watchers and guards are regularly keeping track of the movement of these nocturnal, predatory birds and their breeding cycles, and alert naturalists, which is a welcome development,” said Mr Thirunaranan.

The Eurasian Eagle Owls are strong birds that at times can even knock down a grown-up peacock, observes Dr. Salim Ali in his The Book of Indian Birds. Naturalists warn that these birds are known to attack humans when provoked, which at times could prove dangerous.

According to Mr Thirunaranan, about half-a-dozen owls are found to inhabit the Nanmangalam forests.

K.V. Sudhakar of the Madras Naturalists’ Society said: “Despite anthropogenic pressures over the years, these birds managed to thrive in Nanmangalam. Earlier, people had free access to this forest patch, which really posed a threat to the very survival of this species. Now, with the forest department having increased protection, the place has become safer for the birds.”

A strong prey-base, in the accessible cliffs and bushes, help the owls breed here without much difficulty.

Forest officials should ensure the owl’s habitat is not disturbed; only then, this flagship species of the small forest patch, will survive longer, bird-watchers say.

More In: Chennai | Society