There are few things more hauntingly beautiful than hearing an owl calling after the sun has set. When on an evening drive in the Kruger National Park, or when enjoying an evening braai, it is not unusal to hear these mysterious birds.
A Supersitious Past
Associated with witches and sorcerers, owls have for the best part not being the most liked bird. The fact that owls are mostly seen at night does not help their plight. Many people in the rural communities are known to put spikes on their roofs in an attempt to keep them off their roofs, as it is believed that should an owl land on your roof, it is a bad omen. As owls are fairly easy to catch during the day, witch doctors use them in their traditional medicine, as it is believed that owl ingredients in their potions help patients with eye sight problems and also wisdom and hunting.
Although owls have huge eyes that do see well at night, it is the exceptional hearing that enables them to hunt successfully at night. Owls are usually found in woodland areas of the Kruger National Park. The most common owls found in the Kruger National Park and surrounding areas are the Barn Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and the Marsh Owl.
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl stands about 66 cm tall and can weigh up to 2.3 kg. This owl has a wingspan of 1.5 meters, and it has a pale grey body, a set of distinctive ear tufts and a pale face that is black rimmed. Although its eyes are dark it has pink eyelids.
The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is known to snatch roosting birds out their nests at night. It also preys on bats, springhares, mongooses, rodents, frogs and a variety of insects and fish. A special treat for this owl is a hedgehog, after peeling away the spiny skin, which it neatly discards, it tucks into the flesh.
In Shangaan folklore the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is known as Nkhunsi, a messenger of death sent by a malevolent person. To undo the death spell you will need to sever the head of the owl, that way you are able to send the ill fortune back to the person that sent it to you.
In comparison, the Barn Owl is smaller and is only about 36 cm tall. It weighs about 500g and has a wingspan of about 90cm. The Barn Owl can be found in and around rest camps as they are comfortable around humans. It has a golden buff and pale colouring with a distinctive heart shaped face. This owl preys mostly on rodents, although it does prey on birds, frogs and lizards. At dusk Barn Owls and be seen gliding low over the ground or beating bushes in an attempt to get the smaller birds out. They only hunt from dusk as they can easily become prey to other raptors during the day.
An adult Marsh Owl is about 36 cm, weighs 310 grams and has a wingspan of about 90cm. This owl has a gray disk face and centrally placed ear tufts. The rest of his body is shades of brown. A favourite meal is the Mole Rat, but it also preys on small birds and rodents. The Marsh Owl also eats termites and beetles. As its name predicts, Marsh Owls are commonly found in marshy areas, particularly where there are thick reeds of grass. They can also be found in open thorn savannah though out the Kruger National Park.