53. Some owls. Or owlets. Or Scops-Owls. Some birds.

I’ve been threatening to carry on writing about owls for a while, and now that I’ve arranged a place for them to sit, today is the day I do so. As I have said, the Lowveld supports ten different species of owl. We’ve dealt with one of them, in a bit of a hurry. Today, we deal with another three.

When most people think of owls, they tend to picture the sorts of birds that flapped around in the Harry Potter movies; large, powerful birds that would have no problem carrying obscure magical packages around. These are not those sorts of owls. These are small owls. Tiny owls.

Not these.

Not these.

They are so small that a shadowy, sinister group of birding anarchists is trying to rename some of them “Owlets”. Why are they doing this? Easy. It’s to “prevent confusion”. Ha! I was going to write about the Scops Owl, the White Faced Owl, and the Barred Owl. Now I’m writing about the African Scops-Owl, the Southern White Faced Scops-Owl and the African Barred Owlet.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that this renaming of birds and plants thing is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine. But hobbyhorses are made for riding, so here we go again; as one of my loyal readers pointed out, an owlet is a baby owl. They might be small, but the Barred Owls I’m going to talk about are all growed up. As far as I’m aware, not a single birdwatcher has collapsed to the ground with a stroke while watching Barred Owls, clutching desperately at the legs of his companions and muttering “It’s too small! It’s too small! How can they call it an owl? It’s too small!”

The Scops Owl and the White Faced Owl look pretty similar. But not similar enough to cause major confusion. This situation has been remedied by calling them both “Scops-Owls”. The renamers obviously had a bunch of spare hyphens lying around. Last week a long-time birdwatcher fell to the ground with a stroke. Clutching desperately at the legs of his companions and muttering “Is it a Scops Owl or is it a Scops Owl? Scops Owl or Scops Owl? Scops? Scops?”

I just wanted a tick for my little book!

I just wanted a tick for my little book!

We need to find these people and put them in the stocks for a week. We can throw owls at them. Or Owlets. But I digress. On with the Owls. Or Owlets,

The Barred Owl. Or African Barred Owlet. If you are a bad person.

Ho, hum. Face the front please. Thanks.

Ho, hum. Face the front please. Thanks.

Not much to say, really. It’s an owl. A small one. So small is it, as a matter of fact, that some might even be inclined to call it an owlet. It’s a handsome little fellow, looking rather a lot like the Pearl Spotted Owl I wrote about last week.

Right, a quick shot from the back. Thanks. You can go now.

Right, a quick shot from the back. Thanks. You can go now.

Most of its diet is made up of invertebrates, but like most of the tiny Lowveld owls, it hasn’t forgotten its roots, and will occasionally take on birds bigger than itself, lizards, frogs, and snakes. And that’s about it. We can’t all be superstars. It does have a slightly spooky call, I suppose.

The Scops Owl. Or African Scops-Owl. If you have a thing for hyphens.

Now things get more interesting. I implied, when I wrote about Pearl Spotted Owls, that they were the Lowveld’s smallest. They aren’t. This guy is;

What do you mean, where? It's right there!

What do you mean, where? It’s right there!

He weighs just 65g. He, too, eats mostly insects, with the odd bit of red meat thrown in to stop the other owls from laughing at him. But that’s not the really cool thing about him. Here’s another picture;

It? What do you mean "you see it"? Them. This is a them.

It? What do you mean “you see it”? Them. This is a them.

Vast swathes of the Lowveld are covered by almost single species stands of trees called the Mopane. The bark looks like this;

No. That is not an owl. Move along please.

No. That is not an owl. Move along please.

So does the Scops Owl;

It's staring right back at you!

It’s staring right back at you!

You would think, then, that you would never see them. But it’s actually quite easy, if you are a callous, cold-hearted animal-teaser. This is the noise a Scops Owl makes.

It’s one of the characteristic sounds of the bush at night. Play it to anyone who has spent any time out there and their eyes will glaze over as they slip away to another time and place. Play it down in the bush, and you’ll see a Scops Owl.

You can actually do this with most owls. Set yourself up a deckchair, a beer, and a recording of an owl calling, and sit back and wait. You can even do this during the day. Soon, you will begin to hear an answer, and before long, the owl will make an appearance. If it’s a Scops Owl, he won’t even be looking like a stick any more.

What do you mean "You still can't see it"?!?

What do you mean “You still can’t see it”?!?

He will be looking for a fight. Owls are fiercely territorial. All that tu-whitting and tu-whooing, or prrrping, in the Scops Owl’s case, is done to tell the neighbours to bugger off. Playing back the calls of a stranger in the middle of an owl’s territory is like setting up a picnic in a stranger’s garden; it’s going to provoke a reaction.

It is not, however, nice. When you step into nature, you should be doing it on nature’s terms. Challenging wild animals to an imaginary fight is all well and good, but it interrupts the pattern of their lives and is best avoided.

I shouldn’t be encouraging you, but you can do this with lions, too. I’ve seen it done. You do, however, need to decide beforehand whether you would like an angry 250kg murder-beast to come bursting out of the bush looking for a fight while you sit by in an open vehicle. It’s not an owl.

The White-Faced Owl. Or Southern White-Faced Scops-Owl. If you like lots of words.

As I mentioned, the White-Faced Owl looks quite a bit like a Scops Owl. It is substantially bigger, about 190g, and eats a lot more meat, in the form of rodents and birds. It also takes its fair share of insects.

As you saw from the pictures above, the Scops Owl is a bit of a shape-shifter. It can go from being a perfectly normal looking owl to being a dead Mopane branch with a slight ruffling of the feathers. But it can’t hold up a candle to this guy. This is a White Faced Owl;

I'm an owl!

I’m an owl!

So is this;

I'm a peacock!

I’m a peacock!

And so is this;

I'm a little odd!

I’m a little odd!

It has been called the transformer owl. The Scops Owl uses its transforming ability to hide away. The White Faced Owl does something a little different. It uses its remarkable ability to change its appearance to freak its enemies out. I’m going to show you a YouTube video. It is an absolutely perfect demonstration of how the White faced Owl defends itself through bluff and surprise.

It’s not a video I like. For a start, it has random people laughing up in one corner because Japan. It also has, for reasons which escape me, a dubstep soundtrack.

But most of all, like the owl-call playback trick, it’s not nice. Have a look;

What that owl is doing is called a defensive threat. It’s looking scary because it’s scared. It’s bluffing. And it’s scared for a reason. Random Japanese people keep pointing its most dreaded enemies at it. Big owls eat little owls. That clip up there looks like part of some sort of bird show. Somewhere up in Japan there is a White Faced Owl with ulcers and a drinking problem because, twice a day, every day, and three times on the weekend, a crowd of people gathers to laugh at it while its handlers threaten it with imminent death. Nice one.

And that, good people, is that. Four down and six to go. I have no idea when I’ll get round to the rest of the Lowveld owls, but when I do, I hope you’ll be there to see them.


46 thoughts on “53. Some owls. Or owlets. Or Scops-Owls. Some birds.

  1. […] you don’t suffer from cravings, stop reading this right now go read one of 23 Thorn’s posts on owls instead. He has several, and they are awesome.) If you do struggle with cravings, however, read on… I […]

  2. Nylabluesmum says:

    Those Barred Owls look so soft & downy!!! I now know about them!!! (It is impressive when an old bat like me can learn something new…say you should write about bats..oh wait I think you have already…)
    But I digressed ( I sound like you!). I LOVE SCOPS owls..especially when they do their ‘Dracula’ impression!!! They are cute n freaky at the same time!!!!
    Thanks for another informative & fun blog.

  3. Brilliant – love the owls and love the humour.

  4. Mmnm says:

    That poor white-faced owl.

  5. Art Brûlant says:

    Thank you again. Wonderful! I discovered there is a Barred Owl up here too. When I was new to this northern bush they scared me quite seriously — sitting in my tent listening to what sounded like a pack of dogs or bears arguing (over me???).

    • 23thorns says:

      The owls in this post all have bird-like calls, but the Giant Eagle Owl sounds like a grunting pig. I’ve never seen a bushpig, so I spent years pounding around trying to find the ones that were clearly just round the corner from me, before realising I should be searching slightly higher up in the trees.

  6. Many Cha Cha Michelle says:

    That white faced birdsamacallit is truly amazing and people are cruel, aren’t they. Great piece.

    • 23thorns says:

      I suppose if you hold it up next to bullfighting or bear-baiting it’s not so much cruel as ignorant and thoughtless. I’m sure the little guy would be happier without his twice-a-day star turn.

  7. Lyn says:

    A bit sad to see “This media proudly hosted by” on the Japanese film. I love owls; there’s something cute and cuddly about them.

    • 23thorns says:

      They do look kinda snuggly. But growing up, we had a book called “A Delight of Owls”. The author only had one eye left…
      So maybe not.

  8. elizabethweaver says:

    Wonderful owl shots & fabulous “evil owl” video. Thanks!

  9. AliasPhish says:

    Great post! I love the white faced owl!

  10. albertine says:

    Can everyone hear the sound sections but me? I clicked on the Japan one, but nothing appeared – sorry to appear querulous – but we elderly folks, with limited time left – – – –
    What was I talking about, again?

  11. pfstare says:

    The White Faced Owl is now my favourite bird.

    I love how the other owls it is being taunted with are just ‘yeah, like – do your caped evil owl thing – whatever’.

    Incidentally, we have been dissecting owl pellets in this house for homework recently. A good project should you ever need one 🙂

  12. Susan M says:

    Excellent post! I loved the recording of the Scops Owl calls. I didn’t play the Japanese video, though. I appreciate your note that it has people being mean to the owls. I also agree with you on the mis-use of “owlet”. An owlet is a baby owl, not a small adult owl.

    • 23thorns says:

      There is something magical about those calls, especially when you’re sitting out under the stars in the bush.

      • heila2013 says:

        I so agree regarding the magic of their calls. I think most owls’ calls are enchanting and even spooky. A few months ago my son and I were trying to detect the creature behind the mysterious calls we kept hearing every night (we live in Israel). They turned out to be those of several Long-eared Owls that my son even managed to take a picture of. It was such an exciting experience.

  13. narf77 says:

    Mr 23Thorns you don’t REALLY want to release the bird watchers (twitchers), the train spotters, the Star wars/trek fans, the physics and chemistry students from their endless loop of interest do you? Let’s be honest…we all put them in that loop for our own good. Constantly cycling within their sphere of interest muttering between themselves and spending their readies on the accompanying merchandise allows us all a degree of security against having to actually enter conversation with them. They huddle together. They make up their own rules… their own codes and their own speech patterns and we just let them. They live peripheral to the rest of humanity and like the Scops owl; they are small and heavily predated by the “other birds”. A degree of sympathy for our high functioning brethren might be in order ;). Of COURSE they are going to try to rename/reclassify everything. You can’t ever be too stringent with classification Mr 23Thorns. You can’t leave things out in the open and outside the black and white scale because anything in greyscale has a habit of going apocalyptic on you when you least expect it. Order is all important.
    Once you call your Scops owl how do you stop yourself from getting into an all-out brawl? That Scops owl has a strong resemblance to one “Grumpy Cat” that my sisters Facebook page appears to have been taken over by. I must be a natural enemy of the White Faced Owl because it certainly freaked ME out Mr23 Thorns! And thus ends another most interesting post about owls. We only have 1 kind of owl here. The Southern Boobook Owl (Ninox novaehollaniae…we make up for only having 1 by giving it a very…very…long…name…). It doesn’t look much like an owl and like the Scops Owl; it blends in with its barky surroundings. Any chance of a fungi post any day soon Mr 23Thorns? You know those twitchers and those train spotters? There are also “Those fungus folk” and I, sadly, am a member of the confraternity…you wouldn’t want me going all apocalyptic now would you sir?

    • 23thorns says:

      Don’t worry about me. I can take a Scops Owl. But if I call in a Giant Eagle Owl by accident, I’m not so sure.
      Surely Tasmania has Barn Owls? I thought they were pretty much universal.
      Notice how diplomatically I’m avoiding the fungi. Next time I go down to the bush I’ll leave some bread lying around and let you know what happens.

      • narf77 says:

        No barn owls…don’t forget we are a tiny little inconsequential island off the coast of a bigger island and given the choice of swimming and staying put, most owls prefer to stay put. Sigh… Mr 23Thorns…what happens when you leave bread lying around in the lowveldt is something (most probably owl fodder) comes along and eats it! I guess I am going to just have to lever myself out of my P.C. chair and walk (YES WALK SIR…do you see what you are doing to me?!!!) out the back door, blinking at the bright sunshine…up to the back block where I will most likely suffer a heart attack and lie dying amongst my precious fungal friends who will then populate my decomposing flesh until I become one with the fungal mass. All of that will be on your head Mr 23Thorns and no… Steve won’t notice me gone. I just baked cakes and biscuits yesterday and till he runs out of them he isn’t going to ask any questions about why he is allowed to have complete monopoly of the television set…(bugger…I just checked to see if there actually ARE barn owls here and it seems we have The Tasmanian Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae castanops) a member of the barn owl family…maybe Mr 23Thorns is as lazy as I am and won’t bother to check Wikipedia for Tasmanian owls…yeah…good idea narf77, just stay schtum and he won’t notice…)

  14. billgncs says:

    sounds like you give a “hoot”. Are these owls migratory or territorial ?

  15. sisteranan says:

    I say put those evil owl-baiters in stocks and get on with the bird throwing. No, wait. Cover them in worms first.

  16. joanfrankham says:

    fascinating birds, I had no idea there were so many different types, thanks for educating us all,

  17. ioniamartin says:

    LOL! Love the pics. Owls are a,azing but boy they scare you when they fly straight at you at night.

  18. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Eek, seriously evil owl. But what does this say about the residents of this Japanese town? Perhaps they need to be left all alone, one by one, next to a dam in the Lowveld bush at night to learn a little respect.

  19. spartacus2030 says:

    Interesting! I never knew owls had so many shapes and forms. A very informative read. Thank you!

  20. […] via 53. Some owls. Or owlets. Or Scops-Owls. Some birds. | 23thorns. […]

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