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The Powerful Owl Project
About Powerful Owls in Sydney
To see videos of the Powerful Owl please visit our Research Page.
The Powerful Owl is found throughout the outer suburbs of the greater Sydney metropolitan area, particularly where these suburbs adjoin substantial areas of bushland and reserves. Over the past 10 years or so, there have been a number of sightings much closer to the city, even in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Powerful Owls nest inside large hollows of big old trees and they usually roost during the day among the dense leafy foliage of tall understorey trees and shrubs. Powerful Owls feed almost exclusively on large tree-dwelling mammals, especially the Common Ringtail Possum, but they also take a few large birds. The Grey-headed Flying Fox is a favourite food item for the owls, especially when there is a Flying Fox colony nearby.
Powerful Owls share a strong pair-bond for life and the male and female are usually seen roosting together, sometimes in adjacent trees. They live year-round in large home-ranges that are often more than 1000 ha in size, although significantly smaller in the urban area. While these areas are centred on large patches of bushland, the owls are sometimes seen hunting at night near houses, especially in the leafy suburbs where there are lots of possums to be found. Powerful Owls need to eat approximately one possum (or flying fox) per night. This food requirement increases during their winter breeding season, and it continues into the following spring and summer as the one or two dependent baby owlets become ever more demanding.
Finding the owls is not all that easy. The easiest way to be sure that the owls are in your area is to listen for their distinctive calls, particularly just after dusk or in the wee hours of the morning. Powerful Owls have a slow, double-note "whoo-hoo" call that is soft, but very strong and resonant, and which can be heard more than 1 km away. To hear a Powerful Owl call click here.
They also have the habit of regurgitating the indigestible remains of their prey, so that bundles of hair, animal jaws and other bones can often be found on the ground below their favourite roosting places.
All owls in Australia are nocturnal (currently, eight species are recognized). The Powerful Owl is a good "flagship" species to help us learn more about the conservation requirements of this species and those of other owls, as well as the needs of many other forest-dwelling species. Because Powerful Owls are difficult to find and occur at such low population densities, we do not know how many of them there are in the Sydney region. As a first step towards effective conservation of the Powerful Owl, we need to be aware of the habitat used by this owl and whether its numbers are increasing or decreasing.
Find out more about Powerful Owls by visiting our fact sheet
The Aims of the Project
We want to locate all the breeding pairs of Powerful Owls in the greater Sydney region, from Newcastle in the north to Kiama in the south and west to the Blue Mountains. We will be identifying where their nest locations are and recording the outcome of each nesting attempt at the end of the breeding season.
This information will identify the critical roosting and breeding requirements of the owls and the locations of important areas requiring protection. We are also collecting pellets and habitat information to understand their urban ecology more, as well as looking at incidents to look at threats in the urban area
In addition, the project will also focus on the development of education materials with partners such as Taronga Zoo and engage various land managers to workshop management measures to help in the conservation of Powerful Owls and their habitat.
To see a wrap of of results so far please see our research page
How Can You Help?
You can help us learn more about the Powerful Owls by:
- 1. Letting us know if you see or hear a Powerful Owl in your area (Newcastle, Central Coast, Sydney, Blue Mountains, Illawarra). Please fill in a survey by following the instructions at the top of the page or email David Bain and Rod Kavanagh at [email protected] to report your sighting; you can send us photos or recordings of their calls if you are unsure. Tell us where (address or GPS location) and when you saw or heard the bird and anything interesting you noticed about where it was or what it was doing.
- 2. Volunteering to be an Owl Observer. We will be looking for volunteers in 2012 who are willing to keep an eye on a breeding pair near them and submit a simple weekly report to us to let us know what is happening at their nest site. You do not need to monitor at night (although some dusk visits may be required) and teams of Owl Observers will be set up for each nest to share the work. All Owl Observers will attend a short training workshop before monitoring their birds. If you would like to register as an Owl Observer please email David at [email protected]
If you come across a Powerful Owl nest use caution and please do not approach it (especially at night). Do not use flash photography at the nest as this may disturb the birds and cause them to abandon the nest.
Caution: some birds get very aggressive while nesting and it can be very dangerous for people to be too close to the nest tree at night.
What Else Can I Do for Owls?
Powerful Owls are not a species that you are likely to get in your garden regularly (though you are very lucky if you get a visit!). They have huge territories and need our bushland remnants to be conserved as critical habitat for them. The Common Ringtail Possum is the most important food item for Powerful Owls in the Sydney region so protecting habitat for these possums in your garden will help the owls. Get involved in your local Bushcare group to help restore our bushland patches and help the birds.
There are other nocturnal birds that are more common visitors to our gardens, but because they are around at night we rarely get to see them! Keep an eye out for species like the:
You can help these birds by:
- Having some trees in your yard for them to use.
- Avoiding rat and mouse baits - eating a poisoned mouse can be deadly for these birds. Instead use traps to rid your house of these pests.
- Installing a nest box. Many of our owls and other nocturnal birds use hollows to breed in but it takes over 100 years for most trees to form hollows. Nest boxes are a great alternative, and possums will readily use nest boxes. There are many different nest boxes out there. You can build your own using the dimensions outlined here.
See a summary of the 2011 and 2012 survery here
Click here to do a Powerful Owl survey (you'll need to have/create a Birds in Backyards account) or follow the detailed instructions below.
Don't forget to go to My Account to update your garden and location details for the surveys so your information will automatically appear (otherwise you will have to enter your location and your garden information every time you do a new survey).
Step 1: Log in to the website on the home page or create a new account if you are new to Birds in Backyards.
Step 2: Go to the ‘About My Garden’ section of your account. If you have not entered garden details previously, then please fill out the forms to tell us about your garden. If you have entered these details previously, check they are still correct (in case you have modified your garden).
Step 4: Select the Powerful Owl survey from the Survey toolbar or click here. Note – the Birds in Backyards surveys are now part of the BirdLife Australia Citizen Science portal (so the page will look a little different). Your Birds in Backyards membership details will automatically log you in on the survey page.
Step 5: Follow the survey instructions and fill in the survey.
Step 6: Select ‘Submit Sighting’ if this is the only record you wish to enter, or ‘Submit and Add Another’ if you have another record or another survey type you wish to enter.Note - when you click the link for the survey page you will be taken to the BirdLife Australia Citizen Science portal. The survey is hosted on this site.
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