The Pel’s Fishing Owl is the second largest owl found in Africa next to the Verreaux’s eagle-owl (also known as the milky eagle or giant eagle owl). The Pel’s Fishing Owl is a nocturnal bird that loves to eat fish, crabs mussels and even the occasional frog or baby crocodile- if the fancy takes it.
They live in dense forest locations, choosing to perch high in thick foliage close to big rivers, so they can live and hunt with ease without being disturbed. The Pel’s Fishing owl is as elusive as it is rare and for many birders it is a spot of a lifetime.
Found in sub-Saharan Africa, it is classified as threatened in South Africa due to the loss of habitat and pollution. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is considered one of the best places to try and catch a glimpse, where there are believed to be around 100 mating pairs.
The Pel’s fishing owl is ginger-brown in colour with black spots on both their wings and breast area. Unlike most owls, they hunt by sight rather than sound as their prey is underwater. As a result, they don’t have the usual concave facial disk which other owls use for detecting prey by sound. Their legs and toes are also adapted to their hunting needs – having no feathers so they don’t retain excess water when grabbing pray out of the water with their claws.
The pel’s fishing owl usually hunts at night. It perches in the tree, looking onto the water and waits for its prey to get close to the surface. The bird will swoop down and snatch the fish from the water.
Pel’s Fishing Owls are monogamous, choosing one mate for life. They breed once every two years, with the female laying two eggs. Sadly, it’s rare for both chicks to survive. They build their nests inside a tree cavity, around 3 to 12 metres above the ground. Chicks are considered a fledgling at about 70 days old but will stay with their parents for around 9 months while they learn the ropes.
Top 5 facts about Pel’s Fishing Owl:
- They don’t migrate on a seasonal basis and will only move to new territory if the food supply in their existing habitat becomes depleted.
- Male and female birds communicate using hoots. Males have a deep, reverberating call (hoom-hut) which can be heard up to three kilometres away!
- The female’s call is higher pitched and usually a single hoot followed by a double hoot-oot.
- The pel’s fishing owl is named after Hendrik Severinus Pel, a former Dutch governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) between 1840 and 1850.
- They can grow to around 60cm tall with an average wingspan of 150cm. Females are larger and heavier than males.