Four barn owls which were raised by local author and expert on indigenous flora and fauna, Haris Nicolaou, are going to be released in the wild next week.
The birds were brought from Argaka, Paphos after they fell out of a nest, to Nicolaou, who works for the forestry department and has written a book on the wild mammals of Cyprus. “The owner of a palm tree cut down the tree because it was invested with weevils, he didn’t know the nest was in the tree, and what to do with the owls,” Nicolaou told the Cyprus Mail.
“By the time they got to Nicosia they were starving but they were healthy. Now they are strong enough to be set free.”
When they got there, the birds were about two weeks old. He kept them at home because there is no place where they could be kept in the city and they need cleaning and feeding regularly.
What he is planning to do is to take them to an agricultural area near Nicosia, which is free from pesticides and which he can easily reach to feed them, hopefully only for a week.
“They don’t have parents who teach them how to hunt, so I will leave them in an artificial nest and feed them until they learn.”
Once they do learn how to hunt, they are very useful for the ecosystem, as one barn owl eats around 2,000 rodents a year. Thus we should take care not to harm them, Nicolaou stressed, adding that some people are afraid of them, as they are relatively big, but they are not at all harmful.
While he was looking after them, he fed them with male chicks which he gets from chicken factories. Male chicks are considered an unwanted byproduct of egg production by the industry and are killed and disposed of shortly after birth.
It is not sure how many barn owls are on the island, but what is sure is that their numbers are decreasing as they are often poisoned and their habitat is shrinking, something the forestry department is trying to fight by constructing artificial nests.
They require large areas over which to hunt. For nesting they prefer quiet cavities, either in trees or man-made cavities such as barns, hence their name.
In Cyprus they are known as ‘anthropopoulia’ which translates into ‘man birds’, so-called because with their long legs and round face they are sometimes mistaken for human beings in the dark.