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No birdie, giant owl disrupts game

Article Date: 2009-01-22   Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com   Comments: 0

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 India.

"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.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com and placed here for comment. OwlPages.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

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