Dusk in South Luangwa National Park. It had just started to rain and visibility from the safari vehicle was limited. The spotter’s searchlight picked up something in the middle of the laterite road. We had been flushing nightjars along the road, but this was different. At first, I couldn’t see it because it was facing away from us. It turned and gazed at the intruders who had interrupted its hunt.
Spotted eagle owls are infrequent visitors to the park, but are widespread over southern Africa. It is easily recognised by its small size (for an eagle owl) and the horns on each side of its head (which are composed of feathers).
This bird is a night owl, hunting by sight for rodents, lizards, insects, small snakes and birds. Usually, they perch on a favourite bough above a popular thoroughfare, but this one was in the middle of the road, searching for prey at ground level. Once they pounce, they devour their food quickly, gulping it down in one, rather than tearing it apart.
When you see one, there is often a mate close by. Like many birds, they mate for life. They nest on the ground, under cover of a bush, rather than in a tree.
The bird flew off and we moved forward slowly. It then landed closer to the vehicle but the spotter’s light startled it and it took off again, hiding in a leafy tree.
Compare this bird with the Verreaux’s Giant Eagle Owl, that I photographed in the car park of the lodge at the end of the game drive. The pink “eye shadow” on the upper eyelid makes me smile every time I see it, as if this bird is not glamorous enough without “makeup”.
In Zambia, eagle owls are regarded with suspicion. They are widely believed to be involved with witchcraft and black magic. Harry Potter understands this very well, of course.