Owls on the ground

We had to wake before sunrise to see short eared owls (Asio flammeus). They hunt at night, but can still be seen early in the morning. I found to my surprise that they are among the commonest of owls, spread across the world. The populations in the extreme north are said to be migratory (the Scandinavian population winters in Britain, for example), but I suppose in India they are not. So, across the whole swathe of its range in Asia, from the deserts of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the extreme east of Asia, it must be resident. Had I seen it before? I don’t take myself seriously as a birdwatcher, so my record-keeping is atrocious. I may have seen it before, but I don’t think I noticed it.

There were many owls in this part of the Rann of Kutch. Our jeep meandered through the maze between thorn bushes, stopping every time someone thought an owl had been spotted. The streaks on the plumage are wonderful camouflage in this landscape of dried twigs, so there were many false calls. I managed to take photos of two individuals, a male (featured photo) and a female (photo above). The only way I can tell, and I could be wrong, is that the male is decidedly paler than the female. These owls nest on the ground, so the more cryptic colouring probably means that the female is the primary caregiver for the offspring.

The short eared owls mainly feed on rodents, although we didn’t see any on this trip, but may also take small birds and insects. With the continuous human demand for more space, I guess the open scrublands where they might normally nest are slowly becoming unavailable. The Great Indian Bustard, one of the most majestic inhabitants of the dry Indian scrublands, seems to be now well set on the path to extinction. The owls may survive longer; they breed faster, and, due to being smaller, they require less prey. But worldwide their numbers are decreasing. Very often we are not even aware of the conflict that our hunger for more space sets up; just by continuing our life as usual we endanger many species.