The silent owl

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Shirley Hardy
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The silent owl

For the passed few months an owl of some sort has been present and observed hunting in the immediate area of my place here in Tenterfield, NSW after dark. I have not been able to identify the bird. My neighbour thinks it is a Barking Owl. It does not call out and I have not been able to photograph it. There only seems to be just one individual bird hunting. There may possibly be 2 individual birds as my neighbour has spotted, on separate ocassions, the same bird but two different sizes of them. 

This owl/s were first spotted hunting for bugs across the road in the paddock, often sighted flying down from the power lines toward the agricultural paddock (the High School owns that particular paddock along with the live stock in it). Then it was observed by my neighbour on numerous nights, prowling around our front garden often sitting on our fence lurking in the same locations where the sparrows woud sit on the fence during the day. He'd be outside at the time having a smoke and the owl would either pretend it wasn't there or fly onto the give way sign and just sit there. The owl has also been observed several times standing on the middle of the road, pretending it wasn't there when spotted then suddenly fly away after a minute or two.

Then for the last few weeks the owl was flying into the flat's windows and walls to catch bugs. I'm talking about loud bangs against the walls and windows. Really crashing into it or something crashing into it at high velocities. Just a few nights ago (3-5) it flew into my lounge room window, and it sounded like an egg was pelted really hard against my window. I heard what sounded like an egg shell cracking against my window. 

Above my lounge room window on the outside, however, there is bird poop stuck to the wall which could only get there from small birds flying into the wall at a very fast pace to knock them unconscious (or to kill them).

Then 2 nights ago, around 11PM, out the back I heard a sparrow swarking it's head off for about a minute then fell silent. Sparrows don't wake up unless disturbed by something, like a predator trying to eat it.

This owl hunts in total silence. It usually flies in total silence. Only once have I ever heard it fly and make a noise but not a vocal sound, and it sounded like a cross between a dog running fast on gravel and a bird with a big wingspan just taking off. It was, in this instance, flying almost at ground level (between 3-6 feet in the air) passed my front door. It scared me and made me jump out of my skin. It flies so quickly you can barely keep a track of it.

Just once have I seen it myself. It is approximately the size of 1-2 Kookaburras in body width, and a bit longer than a kookaburra, from head to tail tip. It's wingspan is similiar to that of a Torresian Crow or ever so slightly bigger than a Torresian Crow's. This sighting was observed at night near a brightly lit led street light. No colour (of the owl) or markings could be seen. It was just too dark for that kind of observation.

All I can tell you about this bird, apart from what I've already mentioned, is it has the flock of sparrows and Indian Mynahs on edge and in a state of panic, and they are avoiding the immediate area. It may also be hunting during the day as the mynahs and sparrows seem to be more nervous about hanging around the area during the day than anything else. Late afternoon, from about 3PM onward, the other birds in the area might give out an alert call and the sparrows and mynah flocks suddenly panic and fly away in a hurry. Up until about 3PM sparrows and mynahs are normally not in the immediate area. They go elsewhere. There is about 100 to each of the 2 flocks.

Both the mynahs and sparrows, mostly the mynahs though, will come in to eat human food scraps thrown out in the garden but they only drink from the puddle of rainwater. If that puddle dries up they tend to move on. Sparrows will drink from the water bowl though. Human food scraps is not in decline - just the presence of these two bird species. The owl is obviously hunting both species and it has these two species nervous as all heck. 

The sparrows used to devour my silverbeet until I began pouring soapy water over them. I repeated this just twice and now the silverbeet is left alone. However, the sparrows try eating from one of the silverbeet then suddenly panic and fly away for no obvious reason. It just looks like the sparrows are too nervous to stay in the garden long enough to eat from the silverbeet in case they get eaten by the owl. 

I do know one thing and that it is not a Nankeen Night Heron. I haven't heard any of them since mid summer, since before the last cicada was around. Nankeen Night Herons don't perch on power lines around here. They perch only on the largest of trees and are always squarking their heads off unless they are flying between trees. There are no Nankeen Night Herons here in Autumn, period. They do breed here somewhere then they move on. 

Autumn is when I start listening to the neighbourhood dogs barking to identify which ones are the local (and actual) dogs and which barking isn't a dog. I heard two small terrier type dogs barking 2 nights ago. They seemed very close together in physical proximity to each other. They were the only barking sounds that were out of place because no-one around here has two small dogs like that, that bark at each other in conversation to each other. 

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