No birdie, giant owl disrupts game
Article Date: 2009-01-22 Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com
By Vikram Jit
Chandigarh, India - When golfer Shiva Narain recently stepped onto the second hole tee of the jungle-ringed Shiwalik Golf Course, here, he witnessed a
sight that made his jaw drop. A giant owl was making short work of a peacock.
The owl made off on sighting the golfers but not before it let out a terrifying
shriek - probably equalling the sound of a 100 birds. Its large, flat ears, fish
scale-like feathers and white face left many speechless.
When Narain rushed to the spot, a horrific sight of feathers strewn over the
place awaited him - an evidence of struggle that waged before the powerful owl
brought down the peacock, a hardy bird itself that can finish off cobras in a
trifle. Little did Narain, a wildlife enthusiast who grew up in Dehradun,
realize that it was
the rare spot-bellied eagle owl, apparently never observed in Haryana-Punjab
region. At an approximate height of 63 cm, it is the biggest of owls found in
"I"ve observed wildlife in India"s best sanctuaries but never before have I
witnessed such an owl, as big as a vulture, and with huge claws. In fact,
peacocks have deserted this part of golf course ever since," he told TOI.
"There is only one owl - spot-bellied - that can kill peacocks. The Eurasian
eagle owl cannot kill such a big bird. The sighting is great news for wildlife
conservationists because this kind is known to exist eastwards of Jim Corbett
National Park. This owl has even been observed taking off with a lamb in Madhya
Pradesh. The description that Narain has provided makes it clear that it is
indeed the spot-bellied variety," said Sonepat-based Suresh Sharma, Haryana"s
leading ornithologist and author.
Agrees Rishad Naoroji, author of ‘Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent", "I
think the owl could have been an eagle owl of the genus Bubo."
In his seminal work, ‘The Book of Indian Birds, legendary ornithologist Dr Salim
Ali stated: "A powerful owl capable of killing birds up to peafowl in size and
mammals the size of a jackal... Also believed to produce the blood-curdling
screams of the ‘Devil Bird".
However, modern ornithology has expanded the list of the spot-bellied owl"s
victims. Nandini Rajamani of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore,
in her research paper on spot-bellied owl notes that the prey base also
includes: "Young barking deer, hares, Indian giant flying squirrel, civets,
junglefowl, Kaleej Pheasant, monitor lizards, snakes and fish." Rajamani claims
at having seen this owl taking off with a mouse deer in Tamil Nadu, whose head
it had torn off.
The spot-bellied owl has deep symbolic significance in Hindu and Nepalese
legend, and is believed to call from sacred groves and cemeteries. It"s call has
been compared to that of a widow"s wail or - as Dr Ali once stated - that of a
demented person hurling himself off a precipice.
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