Powerful Owl finds her freedom

Being a wildlife rescue volunteer has many ups and downs. To be honest, sometimes it feels like the downs outweigh the ups, but specialising as a rescuer and rehabilitator of apex predators – the diurnal birds of prey and owls – is an incredible privilege.

I released this female Powerful Owl on the Friday evening before Christmas Eve 2022 in the mid Blue Mountains. I picked her up from my colleagues at Raptor Recovery Australia (RRA) and drove her almost 200km back to where she was rescued.

She arrived nearly 12 months earlier with severely damaged feathers and terrible parasitic infections that just would not clear. It took a long time for the feathers to moult and regrow and the bird struggled for ages, yet the amazing team at RRA never gave up hope.

The truth is, she would have most likely lost her mate very quickly and would have to re-establish herself back in the wild now that she is once again free. However, with breeding season now well and truly over and juvenile birds dispersing, it was the optimal time for her to regain her freedom.

Owls appear to be mysterious predators, since their activities mostly happen at night and generally go unnoticed, except by those who are out and about at night deliberately searching for them in our forests or people who see them around their houses during the times when they may be active.

Powerful Owls are Australia’s largest species of owl, and they are found around the east coast from Mackay down to southwestern Victoria and are one of the so-called large forest owls.

They can be found in both dry and wet sclerophyll forests where they often share territory with the Southern Boobook, Barking Owl, Greater Sooty Owl, and the Australian Masked Owl. In high prey density areas Powerful Owls can have a home territory of barely 500ha, but where prey is more scattered (not as dense) they can have a home range of 5,000ha, which is enormous! Hence why at times it is difficult to find Powerful Owls, even when deliberately seeking them in areas of low prey density.

In the Sydney/Blue Mountains region Powerful Owls generally breed at the same time each year with courtship beginning in March, egg laying in late May/early June and owlets fledging from July onwards.

You will often hear Powerful Owls calling at dusk and during the night, with their typical two-note woo-hoo calls traveling through the night air for up to a kilometer or more in optimal conditions. You can also pick the owl’s sex from calls usually with males having the hoo part the same pitch or lower than the woo part. Females generally have a higher hoo than woo!

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