Last week, I saw a barn owl just outside our apartment complex. It was past 7 and this guy swished by with a ghostly whisper of wings. I waited to see if it would hover, but it just flew up into a dead tree and perched there.
In August 2001, I saw barn owls hovering for the first time. Here’s a note and the subsequent discussion (from bngbirds):
I moved to Mumbai last month from Bangalore. While I found the bird life — like the people here — to be hardy and adaptive, what I saw last Saturday really took the cake.
I was taking a late night stroll on the esplanade at Carter Road, Bandra. Most people who are familiar with Mumbai know of the profusion of rats here, as well as their insouciance and nonchalance — I’ve had rats ambling up to inspect my feet and when I tried to shoo them off, they would rear up on their hind legs and bare their teeth at me. Terrifying stuff, really. On this night, as usual, there were rodents aplenty scurrying on the esplanade. Suddenly a ghostly white shape materialised out of somewhere — a barn owl, that graceful stalker of urban vermin. There were at least two or three of them policing the stretch, easily distinguishable from the night herons that were also stalking other prey on the shore.
One of these owls appeared to be struggling against something in the air, about 10-15 feet from the ground. I hoped the poor bird wasn’t caught against an electric wire. As I moved closer, I found no obstructions in its path. The bird was hovering! I’ve known only ospreys, kestrels and pied kingfishers to hover (at least, they are the only ones I have seen doing so, apart from hummingbirds in the US, and back home, harriers who manage a mean hover against the breeze, or maybe pipits and skylarks that do their own versions). This barn owl, however, was doing an amazing job of it, with all the flourish of a trapeze artist on an invisible trapeze. It would flap briefly against the wind (a strongish sea breeze), apparently catch hold of a current and hover — quasi-static — in one place, wings rapidly beating.
Before anybody casts any aspersions, I must stress that I wasn’t drunk, and I had three others with me who weren’t, too (though they wouldn’t know an owl from a bat if I hadn’t told them) and we all saw this amazing spectacle.
The barn owl held its pose for about 30-40 seconds, then caught another current and performed for us again. All the while, I noticed the head cock from side to side and those large, shiny, black eyes taking in the view.
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch sight of the bird preying on any of those execrable rats, but I sure hope it managed a great meal that night. Such talent is certainly deserving of great reward.
That post is archived at bngbirds.
It was revealed that barn owls, like many other owls, do hover. And the interesting discussion that followed highlighted the observation that “woodland owls have no need to hover”.
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