A natural history note: Pearl-spotted owlet - Alexander Becker

A natural history note: Pearl-spotted owlet

Published: 11/02/2019

As I continue to be bogged down with work (read: grant applications), I find myself continually dragging my "Gorongosa" and "Kruger" to-do-list blog posts to "next week", frustratingly so. Hopefully I will be able to put together a comprehensive blog post for each trip by the end of the month, as they were both truly amazing. A bit of a teaser, but I was SO blown away by Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique that I really want to do the park justice in my write up. Kruger was, of course, amazing, but admittedly did have the "crowds" characteristic of big parks. It wasn't at all that bad, but Gorongosa was really something special and honestly felt "untouched".

But as much as I loved it, this quick "natural history note" (a new series??), isn't about Gorongosa, but rather Kruger. Or more specifically, about a super cool adaption an owl (one of many!) in Kruger possesses. 

The Pearl-spotted owlet was very high up on my list of birds to see in Africa, and Kruger did not disappoint (read: this was an owl that was relatively "easy" to photograph in the presence of crowds as it wasn't a lion or leopard). For my North American readers, the Pearl-spotted owlet is essentially a Pygmy owl. Given its shockingly similar size, behavior, and habitat selection, I am disappointed that the area between British Columbia and Africa (read: New Jersey where I reside) has no such owl!    

Anyhow, the Pearl-spotted owlet has a particular adaption that is relatively common amongst small raptors: "eyes" on the back of their head. Audubon speculates that as these smaller birds of prey get mobbed by their potential meal, such as chickadees, et al., these spots "serve as self-defense not from predators, but from their own prey". Seems legit to me.

But what is really cool is actually seeing this effect in real time. I was lucky enough to see multiple owls in Kruger, but this one gave a particular display of natural history that I think is worth showing in this quick blog post.

Here is the owl facing me:

But, according to my DSLR, 0.1 seconds later this little owlet turned away from me, highlighting these beautiful eye markings on its back:

Slide the following graphic to see the difference even more clearly. 

A pretty convincing adaption right?? At least, if (big if!) I was a very small passerine, I would be afraid of this!

A couple minutes later this owl gave me the "keeper" shot from the encounter with a great head-on stare.

I had some other great sightings with these owls (including likely one of my top photos of 2019), but all to come in due time...

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