Ural Owls

Photo: Judith Ramage
Photo: Judith Ramage
Nick Hodges

Peter and I carried the ladder.  Daniel carried the net. Kjell-ake carried the net.  Kjell-ake was important: he carried the briefcase containing the breeding records.

We stumbled through the Swedish forest to where a nesting box was attached to a small Aspen tree. The ladder was positioned; the net held in place over the nesting hole.

Kjell-ake climbed up and tapped loudly on the side of the box. Nothing. If the bird was present it was staying put. Donning his thick leather gloves Kjell-ake cautiously raised the box lid, reached in and pulled out a Ural Owl.  

He descended and read out the number of the band attached to the bird’s right leg. “Five eggs,” he beamed.

The owl was weighed, measured and released. After a short flight followed by an irritable shaking of its wings, the bird returned to its nesting box.

The Ural Owl is found across most of northern Europe but its presence is declining, which is why it’s being given a helping hand in the forests north-west of the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Somewhat smaller than the Australian powerful owl, it’s a brown bird whose plumage is covered in white streaks and spots. It has a pale facial disc outlined in dark brown.

We moved on. The second nest box was empty.  The owl had been present three weeks before but was known to have been at least 15 years old. Kjell-ake was philosophical about its absence.  

The third box, Kjell-ake muttered, “contained a flyer”. Sure enough, when the box was tapped the owl fled in a flurry of wings and feathers – straight into the well-positioned net.

Kjell-ake untangled the bird which then sat calmly in his firm grasp. It occurred to me that this owl had seen it all before. I climbed the ladder and peered into the box where three eggs – two downy young and a dead vole (an owl’s lunch) – were seen.

Kjell-ake was pleased. These were the first hatchlings of the year.  Two nesting boxes out of three in use. Not bad.

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