The Loss of a Favourite

Remains of a raptor kill
Remains of a raptor kill

I made an unfortunate discovery during an improvised fox drive through a strip of spruces this afternoon, and was deeply disappointed to find the predated remains of a long-eared owl on the mat of fallen needles. I was excited to find that the owls had returned to this strip when I heard them displaying in February, and I was hoping for a second summer of long-ears to follow on from last year’s extravaganza. Unfortunately, the wood has been quiet for the past six weeks, and the best explanation I can come up with is that one of the pair fell victim to a goshawk.

I wrote last summer about goshawk predation on barn owls in the same strip, and I’m even more upset by this latest discovery – further evidence of so-called intra-guild predation. Given that it was unquestionably a raptor kill in an area where goshawks are doing very well, I think it’s something of an open/shut case.

Getting enthusiastic about long-eared owls recently, I happened to mention them to a friend on the Isle of Man. There are no voles on the Isle of Man, and most owl species are a bit of a rarity as result. The most common owl on the island is the long-eared, presumably because those birds are not so dependent upon voles and eat a good proportion of songbirds to make up for the shortage of small rodents. The traditional Manx name for long-eared owls is kione chayt, which means “cat’s head” – probably a reference to the slitted eyes and contented expression of a roosting long-eared owl. In Scotland, the species is sometimes called a “lug owl” or a “luggie” on account of the exaggerated “lugs” (or ears), and I think these are much nicer ways of differentiating them from their short eared cousins, since the differences between the two species are so much more interesting than the simple length of their respective ears. To be honest I’d rather talk about bog owls and cat’s heads.

And the final punchline was that the fox hopped the dyke just where we least expected him and took off through the rushes, making a clean getaway.


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