The owl files – Chapter 3: In unfamiliar territory!!

20 November 2022

In unfamiliar territory!!

In the 50 years that I have been studying Spotted Eagle-Owls around Johannesburg, the arrival of a new chick has always been a magical moment! And now????

This afternoon we got back from a work weekend at ‘our’ trout farm near Belfast and I decided to check on what was going on in the nest. The female was sitting tight and I couldn’t see anything – so I climbed over the wall to the nest. The female flew out, and down to the lower roof, from where she watched me intently. A quick glance, .   .   . and there was a tiny newly-hatched chick half-hidden behind an unhatched egg. My fears about the female’s strange behaviour this season have proved to be justified!!

There was no food in the nest, and it is not clear if the male is even aware of his latest offspring. He typically provides all the food for the entire family, at least until the chicks are sufficiently grown to allow the female to leave the nest for short periods to hunt. 

Will he bring food to the nest for the new chick – this while he is still supporting the two original chicks, or will he focus purely on the chicks that he has been looking after (without the female’s help) for the past few months? Alternately, will he abandon his charges and focus on the new hatchling?

I am not aware of any other cases where a female Spotted Eagle-Owl returned to her nest and laid a second clutch less than a week after her chicks had fledged. This is totally bizarre and inexplicable behaviour – and I have no idea how the male will respond. Anxious times!!!!!!

Newly hatched owl chick and four unhatched eggs
Newly hatched owl chick

By Geoff Lockwood