Friday Grey Matters: Rare (and Murderous) Owls

i-b4aed98b0a98218f52ffe6c4bdea2162-long_whiskered_owlet.jpg I'm going to take a bit of a departure for parrot-related news this week to focus on owls, which are solitary, nocturnal birds of prey. Recently a very rare species of owl, the long-whiskered owlet, was observed in the wild in Peru by an American ornithological team. The owlet, first discovered in 1976, is tiny, no bigger than a fist. The amber-eyed owl's facial feathers extend out past its head, making it appear to have wispy whiskers. It is also conjectured that the owl is nearly flightless

The American Bird Conservancy said the sighting "is considered a holy grail of South American ornithology." It is so distinct that it has been named in its own genus, Xenoglaux, meaning "strange owl", due to the long wispy feathers that stream out from its eyes.

Hoot hoot, I say.

There are only 250 to 1000 of the owlets left, who's numbers have been drastically affected by habitat destruction. The American team was able to record the owlet's calls and photograph it after one was caught in a mist-net. My SciBling GrrlScientist has also reported on the recent sighting of this tiny rare owl.

Now, on the other side of the world, a bit more disturbing piece of owl-ly news. As reported in the Moscow News:

A scantily clad, 32-year-old man was found dead early Monday in a pool of blood in an owl cage at the Moscow Zoo. A bird keeper at the zoo found the man, Alexander Luparev at about 10 a.m., lying in the cage, which is home to a Siberian long-tailed tawny owl.

Huuhhh? Whaaaaaaat? A naked drunk guy, dead in the owl-cage? Apparently, also found in the cage was a bunch of money and a half-empty liter jug of vodka. Sadly the incident seems to have severely traumatized the owl:

He is believed to have died between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. The owl, which flew out of its cage after the incident, was found perched in a tree next door to the zoo Tuesday evening.

"The owl is still in a state of shock," zoo spokeswoman Natalya Istratova said Wednesday.

She added that the owl was not eating or drinking and that she feared for its life.

This incident can't help but make me recall the incident a few months back when a drunk Chinese man jumped into a panda enclosure and got the smack-down from its resident. I always thought that the cages and fences were to keep the animals *in*, however it seems equally important to keep drunken fools *out*. Don't mess with the endangered species. You've been warned.

Hat-tip Ben and Chris for the stories.


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And don't forget about the Fundy that jumped into a tiger cage, expecting "god" to protect him! Ooops! Guess She was busy that day, washing her hair or something...

Sorry I don't have a Monty Python skit about owls...
Although there is always the Holy Hand Grenade Of Antioch to be used against killer rabbits:

Maybe the fellow thought he'd stumbled into a Hooters?

By G Barnett (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

what a beautiful owlet! I just love the diversity of owl species (ok, well, in addition to the amazing biodiversity this planet still has in general). How can you not see that face and want to protect it?

By Chromosome Crawl (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

There seems to be some confusion over just what kind of owl it is. In Russian it's being called a длиннохвостая неясыть - dlinnokhvostaya neyasyt - which phrase literally translates to "long-tailed tawny owl" but which actually refers to the Urals owl (Strix uralensis, not S. iforgetus (and isn't that a sad name?)) - and then confusingly the picture (or so says a birder friend) appears to be a boreal owl (Aegolius funereus)...

But the Russian press is exonerating the bird. says (article in Russian, though):

However, according the zoo officials, the bird is entirely incapable of killing a man with its beak. "Everyone is most likely picturing an enormous two-headed eagle, but it's not like that! This breed - the Urals owl* - does not attain large size, at its biggest 40-45 cm. There's no way it can kill a person!" Natalya Istratova, the spokeswoman said. "At the moment our owl is scared to death. We are very worried for its health," she added.

The the Moscow man did not die under the bird's beak has been confirmed by the medical examiners' findings. "Our examination has uncovered the cause of death: hypothermia. There were no other contributing factors," Yury Basov, prosecutor for the Presnesk interregional procurator's office, told Gazeta.Ru.

Law enforcement officers suggest that the most likely scenario is that the drunken bird-snatcher slipped and fell, hitting his head on the cage's sharp edge. After this he lost consciousness and, after lying on the ground for a lengthy period, died from the cold.

Ridger, thanks for the info! I was kidding about the owl actually doing any harm to anyone (owls I've seen are pretty "flighty" forgive the pun). Just thought the story is odd to say the least. :) If you figure out what kind of owl it was though, send on a picture.

Crawl, yes I agree. He's adorable! Once again we see that cuteness matters to conservation. :)

Apparently the guy tried to steal the owl and it attacked him. If he was drunk, a screeching, clawing handful of owl could have made him lose his balance, I suppose.

A friend of mine in college had been attacked by an owl while hiking. Left some angry red scars across his face, even years later. I could see the talons of even a medium sized owl making a lethal cut if it hit the neck.