English News

  • youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

Look into my big yellow eyes, say spotted owlets

Look into my big yellow eyes, say spotted owlets

‘<em>Ullu</em>’ is probably the first word of insult we come across in India before we upgrade to more sinister swear words. In English literature, on the contrary, an owl is always associated with intelligence and wisdom. In English again, a group of owls is called parliament but in India ‘<em>ullu</em>’ or owl is always associated with stupidity.

When I started wildlife photography, all species of birds intrigued me but if there is one species that I have fallen in love with, it is the owl. These birds are known for their sharp senses which help them identify prey and are blessed with powerful night vision. Make no mistake, spotted owlets are fully grown owls, not chicks, and one of the cutest of the 200 odd owl species. Their size and expressions make them adorable.

Named after a Greek Goddess and a Hindu God – Athene Brama – one would imagine the spotted owlet to be a majestic creature, but its length is just 19-21 cm. Females tend to be larger. Athene, the goddess of wisdom, war and liberal arts in Greek mythology had the owl as a favorite bird. Brahma, but in the case of the spotted owlet – Brama, is the supreme Hindu god. In Hindu mythology the owl is a <em>vahan</em>, mode of transport of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

<img class="wp-image-16876 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/P3-spotted-owl-pair-denoise-denoise.jpg" alt="" width="1469" height="1229" /> A pair of spotted owls (Photo: Kamal Sahansi)

The Athene Brama or the spotted owlet is one of the most commonly sighted owls in our country but my first sighting happened only during my trip to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, Rajasthan. My rikshaw puller cum guide took me near a tree and pointed: "See there, that’s a spotted owlet." Normally these birds are in pair, but this one was alone in a hollow of a tree and suddenly he spotted me as well. Those big yellow eyes were staring at me as if saying, “come, look into my eyes.”

<strong>Read more: <a href="https://indianarrative.com/opinion/naturenarrative/humanity-at-crossroads-as-species-bow-out-at-alarming-rate-14191.html">Humanity at crossroads as species bow out at alarming rate</a></strong>

A few months later, during lockdown days, I saw spotted owlets in Gurgaon, under a flyover. Big yellow eyes were saying “stay inside."

The spotted owlet is grayish-brown, with white spots on the back while the underbelly is white with brown bars. It also carries distinctive white eyebrows and neck-band. Spotted owlets prefer open habitats including farmlands, groves, and ruins to heavy and dense forests and are usually found in pairs or family parties of three or four. Usually active from dusk to dawn but can sometimes be seen during the day. When disturbed during the day, they fly out to a nearby branch and bob their head and stare at the intruder.

<img class="wp-image-16877 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/P2-yawning-owlet-by-Kamal-Sahansi.jpg" alt="" width="1500" height="999" /> A yawning spotted owlet (Photo: Kamal Sahansi)

Owls cannot move their eyes, therefore, they have to move their entire head to look around and can turn their head 180 degrees. This is possible because owls have an extra vertebra in their spine. The color of the pupils of the eyes indicates the time they hunt. Owls with yellow eyes and also dark eyes hunt during the day while those with orange eyes hunt at night.

<strong>Read more: <a href="https://indianarrative.com/opinion/naturenarrative/great-indian-bustard-hunted-for-its-name-in-pakistan-12290.html">Great Indian Bustard: Hunted for its name in Pakistan</a></strong>

To escape attention, owls prefer to spend the day in the seclusion of a tree hollow, leafy branch, a crevice or ledge of a building. The nest is usually located in a natural hollow of a tree trunk, a hole in a dilapidated wall and between the ceiling and roof of a building or under the flyovers. Three or four spherical white eggs are laid and incubation begins with the first laid eggs, which results in a wide variation in the size of the chicks.

The spotted owlet is a nocturnal raptor found in the Indian subcontinent. Owls have always been considered to be mysterious as they are a part of many myths, legends and fairy tales. Irrespective of their aura, they are often considered bad omens, something which is hurting their survival. The period between Dussehra and Diwali, the two biggest Hindu festivals is usually bad for owls. Demand rises to a peak at the time of Diwali, which is also an occasion for the worship of Lakshmi. During this period owl trade is rampant, with the birds being sold at a premium in illicit bazaars. During Kali Puja, business communities in Bengal sacrifice owls to gain wealth.

<img class="wp-image-16878 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/P4-SOwlet-Jhalana.jpg" alt="" width="1494" height="1081" /> A spotted owlet in its natural habitat (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Yet, it is universally seen as a special bird, with special magical powers. Owls are associated with various myths, folklore and superstitions concerning black magic and witchcraft, prophecy, birth, death, and many other natural and unnatural phenomena. Given the mysteries associated with them, it is no surprise that owls are heavily targeted for illegal trade.

<strong>Read more: <a href="https://indianarrative.com/opinion/spiny-lizards-poaching-rises-during-coronavirus-lockdown-16064.html">Spiny lizards: Poaching rises during coronavirus lockdown</a></strong>

Inclusion in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 has not done much for the bird and, according to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, out of 32 species of owls in the country, 15 are part of the illegal domestic bird trade.

The call of the spotted owlet is a harsh screeching ‘<em>chiruurrr…chirurrr</em>’ followed by ‘<em>cheevak cheevak</em>’ and other screeching sounds. Owls as predators keep a balance in our ecosystem by keeping a check on the rodent and insect population. This itself is a good enough reason to conserve this species as hurting this delicate balance could harm us in the long run. Next time you hear an owl screech, don’t worry, for the caller is not a harbinger of bad luck..