Pels Fishing Owl

Birding enthusiasts are always keen to try and discover rare species, and the Pel's Fishing Owl is one of the few owls that fishes and is always a highlight on a Moremi Safari.

One of the most sought after and elusive of birds for avid birding enthusiasts is the elusive Pel's Fishing Owl (Scotopleia peli). These are one o f the largest owls at 63cm tall. They are one of three fishing owls found in the world.

There are however fish owls (without the -ing) just to make matters confusing. As its name suggests Pel's fishing owls feed almost exclusively on fish. The Okavango Delta is one of the best places to see them, as there are over 100 pairs nesting within the Delta.

Pel's Fishing Owls occur in small areas in sub-Saharan Africa near areas of permanent water. In southern Africa it occurs in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern Botswana, northern and southern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and eastern South Africa. It generally prefers swamps or large tropical rivers next to riverine forest but may be found near small pans.

They are always found close to major river systems or areas of permanent water, such as in the Okavango Delta. It is generally not found far from the water, and spends most of its days in thick riverine forest. They wait in branches 1 - 2 meters above the water for fish to surface before swooping them down and catching them.

It usually nests in hollowed out trees in the riverine forest less than 20m from the water's edge. They lay two eggs which are incubated for 33- 38 days. When the chicks hatch the stronger one will be nurtured, while the other will eventually die. The chick stays in the next for up to 70 days, and will be fully independent a few months later.

Because it hunts fish which are not known for their sharp hearing, Pel's fishing owls fly noisily unlike many of the other owls which have soft edges to their flight feathers.

When the owl is not hunting (normally during the day), it roosts in the deep shade of trees with dark leaves where it's easily overlooked. The reason it's considered such a find is that they are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and occurs in very limited habitats.

However the Okavango has a healthy population of Pel's Fishing Owls and it is thought that there are at least a hundred pairs in the Delta. The best time to see them is in the evenings or at sunset. Look out for them perched on low branches near the water's edge. You may also spot them at their day time roosts in thick riparian forest in the early morning.
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