Spotted owls, which had disappeared from most parts of Delhi because of a loss of habitat, are expected to be back in the city in abundance. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary has thought of a way to bring back the once common species of nocturnal birds by building artificial wooden nests for their breeding.
The plan executed in November has already started producing results with a pair of owls hatching chicks in one of the 80 wooden homes built for the birds.
Many of the homes have been taken up by mynahs and horn bills, birds whose numbers had also started declining from the sanctuary because of multiple problems such the building of nearby Buddha park, muddy water of Yamuna and destruction of local habitat.
“Mynahs have been known to use such boxes as homes but this is the first time that spotted owls have been found setting up homes there,” TK Roy, an ecologist and conservationist, said.
A pair of spotted owls laid claim to the box in February and laid eggs in March. The chicks hatched three weeks ago and are now ready to leave the wooden home.
The owls nest in tree hollows, holes or cavity of crumbling walls or between the ceilings and roofs of deserted buildings and breed mainly between November and April.
With the destruction of such habitat, the birds had started disappearing from the city, prompting the bird sanctuary to set up artificial homes according to guidelines of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
“Accordingly, several triangular nest boxes (with an entry/exit hole) were hung on trees in the sanctuary and it has proven to be a success with a pair of owls taking up residence for the first time,” Roy said.
Of the 80 odd boxes placed in the sanctuary, 45 have been occupied, some even by squirrels. “With the success of the spotted owls, we are expecting more of them to take up homes and increase their population,” added Roy.
Spotted owls (scientific name Athene brama) is the commonest and most familiar small owl that survives in human habitations in villages, farmlands and towns.
The bird chiefly hunts insects and small vertebrates like rodents, mice, toads, bats and lizards.