Beware of owlets on Tokai field

Dog walkers have been urged to leash and control their dogs while the owlets on the field next to the Tokai Pony Club Arena remained vulnerable for the next few weeks. PICTURE: Margaret McIver

Spotted eagle-owlets found nested on the field next to the Tokai Pony Club Arena have recently left the nest but will remain vulnerable on the ground for the next few weeks while they grow and learn to fly.

The South African National Parks (SANParks) has asked visitors to respect the owls, particularly at this crucial time in their life cycle.

According to SANParks, visitors should avoid the proximity in which the owls are breeding, and also keep their dogs on a leash in the area to avoid injury to both owls and dogs.

Parkscape founder Nicky Schmidt said the owlets drop from their nests and learn to fledge from the ground, where they are extremely vulnerable to predators as they are unable to fly, although the parent birds stay close by to bring the owlets food and try to fend off any predators.

Ms Schmidt said that in urban environments predators included domestic cats and dogs.

Because the forest field in Hawthorne Close is so popular, dog-walkers and off-leash dogs are a real threat.

Cape Bird Club leader Margaret Maciver said this particular pair of spotted eagle owls has been nesting there without problems, but there were concerns about this year’s brood because one of their owlets did not return to the rest of the family.

“Spotted eagle-owls are fairly common in Tokai, but as they hide away and sleep all day, most homeowners don’t know it. Sadly, many homeowners put down rat poison, and if a spotted eagle owl (or any owl) finds and eats it, it dies a long, horrid death,” said Ms Maciver.

Rob Mousley said “spotties” have stripes across their front, while the Cape eagle owls have a blotchy front. Otherwise they’re very similar in size and colouring.

Inge Johansen asked everyone to spread the word to not use rat poison in the area. She said two of three chicks in Knysna were poisoned. The youngest died and the other two are in a rescue centre on Vitamin K drips. The parents have successfully raised chicks for nearly a decade on Thesen Island, said Ms Johansen.

Robin De La Feld of Parkscape said their members have put up a sign at each of the entrances to the area.

Cape of Good Hope SPCA spokesperson Belinda Abraham said the distinguishing features of the spotted eagle-owl were the prominent tufts of feathers on either side of its head, and its bright yellow eyes.

Meanwhile, SANParks said it will also tighten up safety and security at Table Mountain National Park after it inducted the first of its Sea, Air and Mountain (SEAM) special operations ranger team (“New SANParks rangers team to beef up security”, Bulletin December 13).