Among all the avian orders, the order Strigiformes (owls) is unique in terms of evolutionary trajectory and adaptations that its members exhibit. Its true that owls look non-ordinary and make low frequency (scary!) calls, but owls are one of the most fascinating birds of prey around us!

Indian Eagle Owl
Indian Eagle Owl | Photo by Prasath Selvaraj

Several myths surround owls. At some places they are worshiped, at others they are considered a bad omen. Their perceived godliness is a threat to them as they are sacrificed to please the goddess of wealth in parts of India!

Spotted Owlets
A parliament of Spotted Owlets | Our friendly neighborhood owls | Photo by Prasath Selvaraj

Owls, typically, have binaural hearing and binocular vision. Owls rely on their vision and hearing abilities to locate their prey. Their feathers are adapted to noiseless flight, hence owls are known as silent killers.

the silent flight of owls explained

Around 218 owl species are found across the globe, of which 37 occur in India. For my doctoral work, I worked on the Forest Owlet, Spotted Owlet, Jungle Owlet, and Little Owl, all small sized owl species from the subcontinent.

Forest Owlet Pankaj
The first close view of the Forest Owlet from one of my field sites in Khandwa in 2013. I spent hours watching the bird, sitting and wondering why an owl like this is Endangered. Though in the photo it looks like I am very close to the bird, the bird is perched on a tall Teak tree around 20-25 m away from me. Photo by Pankaj.
Spotted Owlet Pankaj
Spotted Owlets are human commensals. You will find them a lot around your home or in urban areas! This photograph is one of the individuals I used to see around the lab at NCBS, where I used to work. It was exciting to work on owl genetics with a study owl sitting right next to your lab window! Photo by Pankaj.
Jungle Owlet
The Jungle Owlets are really cool birds! They are vocal and once they start singing you cant help but bob your head to the beats! Apparently, two subspecies of the Jungle Owlet occur in India. More work needs to be done on their behavior and genetics. Photo by Pankaj.

Listening to owls at night is a mesmerizing experience, and i think it is the best way to locate them and identify them. Imagine you are in a pitch dark forest, known to be full of “predators”, listening to the owl calls…! I have been there so many times, to return back to the base with the incredible feeling!

What do we do?

At Chatur Ullu Lab, we are involved in studies concerned with understanding spatio-temporal distribution of owls of India. We are connected with a network of owl scientists across the Europe and hoping to come up with some interesting data.

We are also actively involved in awareness talks and interactions so that people understand the value of owls and get away with the fear they have about these beautiful animals.

For exciting working opportunities, write to us! If you want to contribute your owl observations for research, join OwlIndia!

Jungle Owlet
Jungle Owlet | Photo by Aman Gujar