By: Victoria (Tori) Gray
This week we were introduced to the two stunning Western Barn Owls at the lodge, Fat Owlbert and Muhammad Owli, and the two beautiful Spotted Eagle Owls on the conservancy, Kludd and Igor. Over the last few months since being in South Africa, I’ve come to love and appreciate birds far more than I ever would have expected.
Prior to arriving in Hluhluwe, I hadn’t seen more than one owl in South Africa and that was the African Scops Owl whom flew away shortly after my sighting of it. Seeing these guys up close in the enclosure and their pre-release boma has given me a chance to fully appreciate how majestic, magnificent and exquisite these nocturnal birds of prey truly are.
One of my first projects as a Wild Volunteer was coming up with a way to enrich the enclosure at the lodge for the two Western Barn Owls. My colleague and I decided to improve their living space by building an owl box, which can also be interchangeably used in the future for various types of birds such as eagles or other types of owls. After doing some research on the web, we found dimensions and features (like, the exercise platform) that really stood out to us and began building in the workshop. Fat Owlbert and Muhammad Owli now have a varnished and full functioning owl box in their enclosure! We even added a shelf to the inside in the event that we want to put a camera or a Go Pro inside to capture footage one day. It felt really great to complete this mini project and see our work being put to use by the owls.
Because owls are carnivorous and can eat anything from rodents up to small or even medium sized mammals, we feed the Barn Owls 6 mice and the Spotted Eagle Owls 4 baby chicks each evening. Did you know a barn owl can eat up to 1000 mice per year? In order to provide the owls with enough food to nourish them, we farm mice here at Umkhumbi Lodge. Another project of ours this week was cleaning out and organizing the mice. We first cleared the “mouse room” of almost everything and then put all of the mice into a large tub, being careful to keep newborns and mothers together and separate. After giving the tubs a deep clean and refilling the bottom with a layer of sawdust, it was time to sex and organize the mice. Ideally, we had 5 grown females and 1 grown male in a tub to reproduce. Then we put the pregnant mature females and females with young in tubs together. And lastly, we had tubs of 10 very young mice, a mixture of both males and females. With these regenerating mice, we are able to consistently have food for the owls and are getting closer and closer to releasing them into the wild!