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Not mad, just barking


Barking owl

I met this little fellow in the garden today. The resident pair of peewees were kicking up a godawful racket (something peewees are quite adept at) so I went to check it out, expecting to see the neighbour’s cat trying to climb the grapefruit tree that houses their nest and newly emerged hatchlings. Instead I found a juvenile barking owl hiding in the long grass I reserve for my rabbits.

If you see an owl on the ground in broad daylight you’re probably not looking at a happy, healthy bird and sure enough it was soon clear that this one couldn’t fly. So, lacking leather gloves, I wrapped my hands and forearms in old t-shirts and equipped myself with a large cardboard box. Luckily for me the owl was placid, despite its obvious fear, because if it had wanted to it could have shredded those shirts within seconds and sunk its powerful talons deep into my flesh. As it was a couple of claws found their mark when I tried to get it off my arm and into the box, but it didn’t bleed much.

I was a bit anxious taking it to the RSPCA. If a wing had been broken they would have put it down. But trying to care for it myself was out of the question even if keeping owls in NSW wasn’t illegal. I have no aviary and where was I going to get the live birds and animals I’d need to feed it? (As I write this my pet rabbit Ananda is peering suspiciously at me.) When I rang back a couple of hours later I was assured the owl wasn’t seriously injured and was fit to be handed over to the specialised wildlife carer who was on the way in to pick it up. A happy ending.

Barking owls are extraordinary for a couple of reasons. One is that they will prey on almost anything that moves, including birds and animals larger than themselves. That includes rabbits (calm down Ananda), possums, cockatoos and frogmouths. No wonder the peewees were upset.

More extraordinary than the dining habits of barking owls are their calls. Their namesake noise is almost indistinguishable from that of a small dog and their nocturnal territorial cry is bloodcurdling – it sounds just like a woman being hideously murdered.

When Europeans first came to Australia barking owls were common and it seems my Aboriginal ancestors decided to have a bit of fun with the naive settlers, telling them of a terrifying monster called a bunyip which had learned to mimic the death screams of its victims. I can tell you from personal experience that when you’re out in the bush at night, miles from the nearest town or homestead, it can be difficult to convince yourself that what you’re hearing is just a medium sized bird. Of course there are no bunyips in Australia really. The drop bears ate ’em all.


From → autobiography

  1. Really interesting post about the barking owls Cabrogal. So pleased that you rescued one! I am fascinated about the Killer Koala’s. They seem to have a lot of anger issues. Maybe it’s because they’re eucalyptus addicts. I hear that they rape and kill cats.


    • They generally insist it’s not rape as the cats gave tacit consent by going out with them. Koalas are very primitive animals with small brains so the arguments of the men’s rights movement appeal to them. That’s also why they’re so easily influenced by the anti-Asian rhetoric of Australian political parties.

      Liked by 1 person

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