Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Owls and People: The Barking Owl & Its Habitat.

Barking Owl by D Pearce of Byron Bird Buddies
Photo taken in the Byron ST Wetland (?)
The barking owl as a variety of hawk owl, is an agile and aggressive hunter of the dawn and dusk, taking a wide variety of birds as well as rabbits, possums, bats and rodents. Due to the variety of its prey one would think it an adaptable bird with a high likelihood of surviving human development.

Their favourite habitat on the east coast of Australia is open eucalyptus woodlands and the edges of forests, often adjacent to farmland. Roost sites, where owls sleep during the day, maybe located near waterways and wetlands. According to Hollands (2008) "Barking Owls have a strong liking for swampy country and small patches of woodland. It avoids dense close forest but likes old trees and large hollows for nesting."

Although Barking Owls are widely distributed through Australia with populations all along the wet east coast and through to the Kimberleys in the north west, loss of feeding, roosting and nesting opportunities in southeastern Australia has meant a marked decline. 

If in the whole of Victoria it is estimated that only 50 pairs still survive, according to the WIRES website, I can't imagine many pairs to be living in the remains of the riverine forests of the Northern NSW/Southeast Queensland BioRegion, where human development covers much of the same territory as the habitat that barking owls need. 

And yet, Barking Owls are reported to be tolerant of and seeming sometimes to be indifferent to the movement of people nearby. Holland reports a pair roosting near a busy post office in country Victoria, and nesting in the main street of a Queensland town. 

For owls, habitat loss it isn't just the loss of hollow-bearing trees and places to roost in the daytime. They need to hunt to sustain themselves. And to hunt they need the birds and small mammals that make up their food web. For habitat to be rich enough to sustain a diverse complement of animals it needs in its turn to be rich in a variety of plants and fungi. 

Firewood harvesting is another human activity with big impacts on biodiversity. A hole or slit no bigger than three fingers can hide a micro-bat. Dead paddock trees may have twenty little holes in them, where gliders for example might spend the day. 

Possums and parrots also nest in hollows. A log on the ground can hide insects, native rats, mice. A log on the ground usually will be consumed by fungi. Fungi fruiting bodies make good food for a variety of little animals that in their turn may feed a clutch of owl young. 

I quote from Wikipedia:  habitat is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular species of animalplant, or other type of organism.[1][2] It is the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds a species population.[3]

Owls, Frogmouths & Nightjars of Australia by David Hollands (2008) Blooming Books, Melb.

Check out Brunswick Valley Landcare on Facebook for more news about the POZIBLE project Nestboxes for Owls ....  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1506048359640096/ 

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