Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A sad September story

One morning, during my Aegean sojourn, neighbours turned up with a cardboard box and a story. They had come across a large bird being bullied by some crows. The bird couldn't fly, so it was trying to hide itself in a crevice in some rocks. Imagine my surprise when I lifted the bird out of the box and saw the bird above.
What a magnificent specimen, made more striking because of the extensive apricot coloration and the spotting on its front. A closer examination revealed that it was extemely thin, clearly hadn't eaten for several days, and that it had a badly injured "hip" rendering it incapable of lift-off or flight. Sadly, there being no veterinary service locally capable of dealing with birds, I had no choice in the end but to put it out of its misery, a melancholy task that I would not wish on anyone.
So, what kind of a Barn Owl was it? Seeing all that colour and spotting, I thought at first that it might be of the race guttata, but subsequent investigation of the literature - and a chat with my guru Barn Owl colleague P - confirmed that it was not dark enough, and in any case, the guttata range does not include that part of Europe. So, it was a variant of the nominate race alba ("our" Barn Owl). The lack of pectination on the third toe and the lack of moult suggested it was a young bird, and the extensive spotting on the underwing coverts (and perhaps the very dark facial "ruff") suggested that it was female. As to how it got its injuries, I can only guess. Unfortunately, this part of the Aegean has a shooting culture: anything that moves is game for the guns.
One good thing that comes out of all this is the fact that the neighbours who brought the bird to me cared enough to do so, and were as sad as I was when they finally heard that the bird had "not survived".

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