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Back in the Collection

 One of the most visually striking owls is the Oriental Bay Owl Phodilus badius. They always make me think of Extra-terrestrials when I see them. About the same size as a Barn Owl, with Orange upper wings and back, a fawn chest and face and large dark eyes separated by a wide V-shape and Orange edged facial disk, the two upper corners of their face, able to morph into the most understated, short, rounded Plumicorns of any Owl species. The face can dramatically change shape just by opening or narrowing its eyes. From looks alone it is easy to see why "Mao tou ying" is the Chinese name for Owl, which translates as Cat Headed Bird, or Cat Headed Eagle.

Figure 1The Oriental Bay Owl. Phodilus badius

The wings are short and rounded, in a similar way to those of a Sparrowhawk which enables them to twist and turn, fitting through the small gaps in the dense forests of their preferred habitat. It is native from Nepal to Southern China and down to Java. It has long toes with knobbly, almost arthritic looking joints with wickedly hooked talons at the end giving them incredible strength for hunting and substantial weaponry for subduing a range of quarry from Rats Mice and Birds to Frogs and Insects. I suspect these peculiar toes also help it grip onto the near vertical stems of shiny bamboo in forests. In captivity it often grips the vertical wire or more upright branches in the aviary, glaring indignantly after being disturbed.

Their eyes have huge pupils ringed by very dark brown pupils. When seen by torchlight the inner eye displays the most amazing red reflective layer, which allows light to bounce around inside the eye, giving the Owl an extra chance to use the available light which is often limited in the dense forests they inhabit.

Figure 2 A close up of the face and eyes

They have a wonderful call almost reminiscent of a child's recorder. A tumbling, melancholic series of high hoots sinking to lower notes.

It appears to be thinly spread across its range although it is classed as Least concern, with a stable population trend on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list of Threatened species. I do have issues with the classification "least concern". We don't know how many Long-Eared Owls we have in the UK a heavily populated country which is relatively easy to survey. How can we say a Bird living in difficult to survey Jungle or Forest in countries that may not be as easily surveyed is of least concern. I think unless we definitively know, species should be classed a vulnerable to highlight the fact numbers are estimations.

Captive Oriental Bay Owls in the UK are very scarce. A problem made worse by Brexit and the end of free movement of animals backwards and forwards to mainland Europe. It is now very difficult to import fresh breeding stock from Europe or to export surplus stock, severely hampering any attempt at maintaining a Noah's Ark of Owls, making it even more important to do so now ensuring that we keep species breeding in the UK supporting a viable DNA population as much as possible. WOT has bred Oriental Bay Owls successfully in the past and retained two Males in the collection. In 2019 the older proven Male went on his travels to the Scottish Owl Centre where there was a lonesome female. They settled in nicely and Trystan reported they were calling and tolerating each other. Nothing came of the pairing though, so they managed to acquire another young male and the three of them are now living a contented life together, still not breeding. The younger WOT Male went to North Wales where there was going to be an attempt to source a female for him. Sadly, that didn't happen and last year he came back to Cumbria where he is now, sitting, calling each evening. Implausible as it is to get an answer in darkest Cumbria he tries nonetheless and every time I hear his mournful ballad, I promise myself I will find him a female!!!

Christmas has Arrived at the World Owl Trust


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Monday, 17 June 2024

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