Green Defenders

The neighbour next door

The neighbour next door 
An article on the keen observations of a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) 
Report by: Mr. Ajay Gadikar
I have been watching a Barn owl and studying his behaviour since some time,  glad to share my observations about it.
This Barn owl used to reside  in my neighbourhood,  it had chosen my neighbour’s window pane where he perches and sleeps the whole day.    
As we know,  being nocturnal birds,  the routine of owls is  totally different from those of other birds. The owl used to arrive at his favourite perching place just before dawn, he silently sneaks in and sits on the glass pane. At this time all the other bird species residing in the area are just about to wake and start their chirping.
The place chosen for perching by the Barn owl was so typical that he can be sighted just from the room of my son and from no other angle or any other place you can see him. He used  to sit on a half open window pane.  Two feet above the window pane was a plastic fabricated arch made to protect the window pane during rainy season,  which provided shield to it from above, so the place was very ideal for him to sleep and rest during the day time. The distance from where he sits is hardly 8 feet from my son’s room window.

 After arriving in the morning,  he used to scan the area and later for about half an hour or so he used to preen his feathers and clean his claws with his beak, then slowly starts to yawn and then fell asleep;  but he never falls in deep sleep and any noticeable sound around his vicinity awakens him and then he again takes note of the situation by opening his eyes;  after making sure that no danger is there,  he again starts to fall asleep.
The whole day he used to sleep changing his positions twice or thrice and just at the time of sunset he wakes up and again starts preening his feathers, cleaning his claws.  It was nice to see him doing all these activities. As the light fades he moves out from the place.  While taking flight he usually makes a typical harsh call of his and then first perches on a nearby tree and then moves out in search of food.
Although not much activity is witnessed during the whole day but one very typical observation on the ground just below his perching place did keep us very curious. This extreme curiosity was to witness the pellets (round balls) that he used  to drop below. These pellets are mostly of dark brown to black shades and consist of undigested food materials that he regurgitates from his mouth every day. Our curiosity led us to dissect and examine those pallets. I used  to dissect them to see the kind of food he had eaten the earlier day.
Most of the time it’s tough to recognise the food item from the pellets, as we only got to see feathers, bones, nails and tooth of birds and animals,  but after some days of analysis I was able to distinguish between them.    There were squirrels tooth, sometime rodents teeth and pigeon feathers. So, I surmised that mostly his diet used to consist of squirrels, rodents and birds.
Daily a clear white droppings (vista) was seen at the same place, the white colour being due to the high calcium contains in his droppings.

This activity continued for around two months.  We used to eagerly wait as he comes in the morning as we are also early risers and in the evening daily my son keeps a watch and observe him leaving from his place.
Suddenly one day in late evening I got a call from Indore zoo, the person informed me that an owl has been brought there  by someone,  which is in an injured condition and they wanted  me to come to zoo in morning to identify the owl species. As the owl is kept in schedule 4 of the wildlife act, so the forest department and the zoo people  take extra care in owl related incidents and accidents. I had taken some sessions on Bird Identification for the forest department and Indore Zoo’s caretakers so they are used to calling  me in cases where they are not sure of a bird’s identity.
When I went there in the morning I was stunned after seeing the condition of the owl, it was really in bad shape.  He was not at all able to fly and was lying down on his wings on the ground. I immediately recognised that it was a barn owl.  I told the zoo authorities that it’s a Barn owl,  a commonly found species in greener areas of the city. After coming to my office, I started thinking that Oh God, was is it the same owl which used to perch on the backside of our house?  That day morning I had not checked whether  the owl had come on the window pan or not.  Around 3:00 pm when my son returned from school, I came to know that the owl residing in our neighbourhood was not there.  Since all barn owls look alike, I cannot say surely that it was the same owl but after confirming the place where he was found in this depleted condition I had to believe that this may be the same owl.
Later, the zoo authorities with the help of the doctor,  tried for the whole day to save its life but unfortunately they could not and it succumbed  to its wounds.  Unfortunately from the same day we could not see the owl coming to perch at the  backside of our house. This incident is now 9 months old, till today no owl has come to occupy the vacant place, some times at night we hear  some barn owl’s  harsh call in the vicinity.    Still the perch is empty and we all hope that one day that place will be occupied and we will be lucky enough to find our old neighbour.

( Ajay Gadikar is a naturalist from Indore)

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