Agasthya 6.3 Clay models for owls
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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A few of us had hit upon the requirement of observing the habits of owls in paddy fields, since farmers in this area have traditionally tried to ‘invite’ them to their fields by erecting a country made pole, to rid them of rats which can destroy crops. The widely used camera- trap, a motion or heat sensitive camera that can obtain pictures of creatures from a short range was found to be a very expensive option because even a small set of cameras would cost an exorbitant sum of money to be extensively planted in widely grown paddy. Moreover, owls are active during the night when conventional methods of observation are not possible. Hence we borrowed an idea from kids who use modelling clay to create forms and shapes.

A sheath or lump of clay was fixed onto slender poles, or on locally made owl perches and fence posts to be planted in and around paddy fields. In spite of a fairly simple design to learn about their unknown habits during the dark night, it was almost a couple of weeks since we realized how effective these poles would be. For almost two full days no bird approached it, not even the ones that are active in broad daylight, until a small blue kingfisher finally did. An amusing set of observation came in on an early morning when eight of us teamed up in a large bungalow which had windows looking out in every direction into large spaces of the garden, fields, and forests, with a clay-pole at an obtrusive distance from the window. After a few hours of observations there was just one instance of a curious babbler, which flew in to peck at the red clay-topped knob, and flew back immediately. In the dark night, we simply did not know what was happening unless the clay pads showed markings of claws and feet. However, in a fence post near the fields, on the very next day of installation, we had come across rough scaly marks on the clay pad. It simply did not resemble the deep claw marks that were earlier seen on bird-perched clay knobs. On closer examination of those markings, we realized that they may have been coming from the rough scaly pads the owls possess under their feet to grip their prey, and, led us into planting them more extensively in a paddy field for further observations.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 3
      November 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Clay models for owls
- Prashanth M B
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