Owl update – Chapter 2: The dating game . . . He did it!!! . . . or did he?

24 April 2021

The dating game . . . He did it!!! . . . or did he?

Three days ago, in the early morning, I could see the male and female perched close together in the Oak tree next to the Centre. Later that morning, both birds were gone – and I was worried that one of the Black Sparrowhawks that have been very active around Delta Park had spotted them, and attacked. The female was back in her usual spot under the overhang that evening, but no sign of the male. I then heard calling coming from near the nest – and knew he was still OK as well – big relief!! The next day the female was back in the Oak tree, but no sign of the male .  .  .  and the same again yesterday.

The female was back on the lower roof very early yesterday evening (16:40), and was again more active and alert than usual. I kept checking on her in the hope that she would be joined by the male, but no sign of him. When I looked out just after 18:05 however there had been a change. The female was holding a freshly decapitated Common Mole Rat in her bill. She took the prey into the corner under the overhang and, after tearing off a few small pieces and swallowing them, settled down on her tibio-tarsal joints (ankles) with the rest of the Mole Rat in her talons.

When males bring vertebrate prey (mammals and birds) to the females, they typically first decapitate them, swallowing the heads before delivering the rest of the animal to their mate. The Mole Rat certainly looked freshly-killed, and the female had definitely not moved from the roof, so it is likely that I had just missed my first views of the new male courtship-feeding his mate.  If so, the male has taken a very significant step and is starting to accept his role as hunter/provider – critical during nesting when he will have to find food for himself, his mate, and for any young nestlings that the pair produces. The only other possibility is that the female had cached uneaten prey the previous evening or earlier that morning, and had retrieved it ‘when I wasn’t looking’.  There had been no sign of any prey on the roof earlier however – so this is unlikely. I recorded her caching prey a few years ago – when she somehow managed to get hold of a Little Grebe (or Dabchick). I had seen her very early in the morning on the parapet of the back roof with the grebe, but when I checked later she was in the Cabbage Tree – and no sign of her prey. Early that evening however I found her plucking the grebe in the Willow Tree in front of the Centre.

Female owl with a Mole Rate 24042021

By Geoff Lockwood