The Hindu had an unusual visitor to its Kozhikode office on Thursday night — a barn owl. It was around midnight when the security officer on duty took notice of a frantic flutter from a corner of the office on the first floor. “The bird flitted around the computers for a while and then took refuge on top of a cupboard where it sat through the night,” the guard said.
The barn owl, popularly known as Vellimoonga or Kalappurakooman or Pathayapakshi in Malayalam, is a protected species under the Indian Wildlife Act. The bird (Tyto Alba is the scientific name ) was aptly called Pathayapakshi meaning the ‘the bird of granaries,’ since its role was unsurpassed in rodent control, said Muhamed Jafer Palot, a zoologist from the Western Ghats Regional Centre of the Zoological Survey of India.
“It has been observed that that a Barn Owl consumes about 1,500 mice in a year,” said Dr. Palot. During a 10-year life span, an owl may consume about 15,000 mice. “The advantages are obvious” the zoologist said.
They were mostly seen near cultivation areas and human habitations where their major diet — rodents — are in plenty.
Stating that instances of ‘rat fever’ (Wheel’s Syndrome) was on the rise as the number of barn owls was declining in the State, Dr. Palot said superstitions prevailing across communities were endangering the species. One such belief is that the bird’s meat has the medicinal property to sharpen human vision.
A beat officer from the Forest Flying Squad arrived at the office and his assistant safely caged the barn owl in a cardboard box. Forest officer M.C. Vijayakumar said the bird would be let out into a safe territory in the night.