In the middle of May Windhoek resident Nadja Visagie called to tell me that her father-in-law had brought an injured pearl-spotted owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) with a ringed leg to her house. He had picked it up from a busy road in Klein Windhoek earlier that morning. I knew Nadja from ringing vulture chicks on her father’s farm several years ago. She asked if I wanted to care for the owlet.

When I brought the small bird home I noticed that I had actually ringed it myself (with number 5H63061), together with its mate (number 5H63062), in early June last year at my house – in the vicinity of the Klein Windhoek post office.

Owlet number 5H63061 had probably been hit by a vehicle. His left eye seemed swollen and he kept it closed. There was a little blood on some of the feathers but he had no visible injuries. As far as I could see neither the wings nor the legs were broken. To be on the safe side, however, I phoned Liz Komen of NARREC (Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research and Education Centre) who has rehabilitated countless raptors of all types and sizes. It turned out that Liz was in Cape Town attending a conference. Her advice was to keep the owlet in a darkened container and feed it. If it was eating it would be a good sign.

The pearl-spotted owlet
5H63061 lies motionless on the list of recaptured ringed birds. If an owl is carefully laid down on its back it usually stays put. It is unclear whether this behaviour is a defence mechanism.

The owlet was fully grown but weighed in at no more than 80 grams. I put it into a little cardboard box and offered it a dead mouse. An hour later the mouse was still there. Two hours later it had been eaten. The following day I offered another mouse which was devoured within an hour. The next two days were the same and the owlet’s swollen eye seemed to get better. It looked at me with both eyes when I lifted the lid of the box but calmly remained where it was.

On Saturday afternoon I wanted to show the owlet to a friend. The box was empty! Only three small pellets were left and there was no sign of the little guy anywhere in the garage. Admittedly, it could easily hide among all the stuff that I store there, but it also could have disappeared through the open skylights. Or perhaps it left when I drove the car out of the garage that morning.

Late in the afternoon on Monday we heard a pearl-spotted owlet calling in the neighbourhood. I set up a net. The bird that had been calling came closer but did not fly into the net. The next day two owlets were calling in our garden and after half an hour I managed to catch one of them. It was ringed – number 5H63062! The other one sat in a large camel thorn tree. Again and again it flew across the net to the next tree until at last it was just a few metres away from the net. Twenty minutes later the second owlet was trapped. It was 5H63061! The owlet was safe and sound, able to fly again and it had reunited with its mate. We hear both of them calling in the neighbourhood or in our garden almost every day, to the full-throated accompaniment of excited red-eyed bulbuls and fork-tailed drongos.

Without the ring with number 5H63061 on its leg we never would have known anything about the pearl-spotted owlet that was picked up from the street, or whether it survived after it left my garage.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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