Owls are called raptors, or birds of prey, which means they use sharp talons and curved bills to hunt, kill, and eat other animals.
But owls are different from hawks and eagles in several ways. Most owls have huge heads, stocky bodies, soft feathers, short tails, and a reversible toe that can point either forward or backward. Owl’s eyes face forward, like humans do. Most owl species are active at night, not in the daytime.
You must have heard loud hoots during the night around your house. These birds are called owls (well duh!). They are a huge variety of owls in India found almost everywhere. Most owls are nocturnal, i.e. they are active during the night (comparable to vampires - minus the fangs and their annoying habit of blood sucking).
Brown Wood Owl
This large, serious-looking owl has an ashy border around its black eyes. It has a pale face with a dark border and stripes on underparts and wings. It inhabits the edges of buildings, lowlands and broadleaf forests. Its call is a burst of short, repeating hoots.
It is part of the typical owls family (as this bird is a common Joe) which contains most species of owls. It belongs to the earless owls genus and so naturally it has ears (but lacks ear tufts).
It is a nocturnal bird. Usually when it roosts on a tree, many small birds bomb it repeatedly. Poor bird.
These are images of Male and female Brown Wood Owl taken in Sattal, Uttarakhand.
Brown Fish Owl
This huge owl has a plain face, striped breast and golden eyes. Its front is dirty white and it has droopy eyebrows making it look moody (like a few teenagers). Its underparts are streaked with black or brown stripes. It is found near streams in woods anywhere from lowlands to mountains. It gives varied calls - ranging from deep hoots to high pitched shrieks.
The Brown Fish Owl is also in the typical owls family, but unlike the Brown Wood Owl it belongs to the earful owls genus (Just kidding, it belongs to the Ketupa genus). It is one of the most common owls in India.
This owl has a very noisy wing beat making it hard for it to sneak up on its prey.
This picture of the Brown Fish Owl is taken in Bandipur, Karnataka
Ceylon Bay Owl
This small owl has deep black eyes, a heart-shaped face, brown upperparts and whitish underparts. It usually inhabits dense, humid forests from lowland to hilly areas. Its call is a squeaky whistle.
This owl is very uncommon. It is so rare that most of its records are of injured individuals found on the forest floor.
It is also called as the Sri Lanka Bay Owl as it originates from Sri Lanka (duh!).
We took this picture in Thattekad, Kerala. It was in a Banana farm and gave us ample opportunity to photograph during the day.
This small owl has a round head with no crest. It has a short tail. It is brownish-grey with white spots on its upperparts and its underparts are white with brown barring. It has a white neck band (a choker). It inhabits open regions. Its call is a loud ‘chirurrr chirurrr chirurr’.
Its brain has a pineal gland*. Its melatonin** levels vary throughout the day. The Spotted Owlet’s melatonin level decreases only a little during the night and increases by a small amount in the afternoon unlike other owls who show a big difference between day and night.
When the Spotted Owlet is looking at you, it stares with such an intensity that you feel like it is looking right into your soul.
We have seen these birds many times in Lalbagh but this photo was taken in Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu in a farm behind our residence.
*Pineal gland is a gland found in the brain which produces melatonin. Melatonin is used to modulate sleep cycles. This gland is in the shape of a pine cone
**Melatonin is produced by the Pineal Gland and controls the sleep-wake cycle. High melatonin causes sleep and low melatonin causes the organism to be awake and simulates foraging activity
It is a stocky, small owl with barring all over its body. It doesn’t have the fake eyes possessed by other owlets. Its call is a loud trill. It inhabits densely wooded areas.
It is most active at dawn and dusk, but sometimes flies during the daytime. (It’s a rebel!).
This is a very shy bird but we spotted it in Sattal, Uttarakhand
Spot Bellied Eagle Owl
This huge owl inhabits humid lowlands and hill forests. The adult is silver-gray in colour with a huge yellow bill, black eyes, and sweeping “sideways horns”. It gives deep echoing hoots.
Its hoots sound very human-like and add that to its prominent horns, you’ll understand why it is called the “Devil Bird” in Sri Lanka.
This small, brown owl lives in mountains, but descends into valleys during the winters. Its upperparts are dark while its underparts are white. It has distinct streaks on its flanks. Its call sounds similar to a barbet’s call but with 4 distinct notes (only 4 notes? Definitely not a singer)
It is the smallest owl in India at just 15 cm and 60 grams (60 grams is the weight of a tennis ball). It also changes colours throughout its life cycle (I want to do that!).
Unlike the other owls, this owl is diurnal, i.e. active only during the daytime. Although it is mentioned as Least Concern by IUCN, its main threat is habitat loss. In India, these birds are not found in forests smaller than 100 hectares.
We saw this bird in Arunachal Pradesh in Eaglenest Sanctuary