Diminutive chirper of the night

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WELL-CAMOUFLAGED: The African scops owl blends right in with the bark of surrounding trees in daylight hours Picture: TIM COCKCROFT
WELL-CAMOUFLAGED: The African scops owl blends right in with the bark of surrounding trees in daylight hours Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

GREETINGS everybody! This week we are going to take a look at a bird of the night.

As dusk falls and the night sounds fade in, the African scops owl starts advertising its presence from the Euphorbia and Acacia covered slopes and valleys.

The call is a distinctive, short “Prrrp”, which carries far. The pitch and speed of this chirp can vary slightly between individuals. Please visit http://www.xeno-canto.org/317723 to hear my recording of this owl. When calling, the bird leans forward slightly, puffing up a section of the throat on each note.

During the day it is almost impossible to see the bird. The grey colouration, fine bars, speckles and other markings give it such camouflage that it blends right in with the bark of the surrounding trees. To further disguise itself, it sits upright, closes its yellow eyes and stays so still that it is transformed into a “stump”.

Many people associate the African scops owl with trips to the Kruger National Park and other bushveld getaways.

In some of the bird books from 30-odd years ago, if you look at the distribution maps, this little owl is shown either to occur here in our province very sparsely, or not at all. However, this is not quite true. There are enough records of this bird in our area to confirm that it is not at all uncommon in the Eastern Cape. There are records (both old and recent) from Port Alfred, Bathurst, Bedford, Adelaide, Grahamstown… the list goes on.

My own first encounter with this bird was at Double Drift on the Fish River in 1997. As we shone our torch, it sat in front of us watching the insects and moths that were being attracted by the light. Of course being such a small owl, insects form a large part of the diet, although it will also take small rodents and reptiles.

Well my friends, that’s it for now. I am still available for birding tours in and around our area, so please call me on 072-314-0069 if you are interested in getting out there to see some of these birds mentioned in this column. Until next time, happy birding!

 

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