With over 140 species of birds known to frequent Centennial Parklands, we are still delighted when a rare feathered visitor is spotted. This latest sighting has not only caught our attention, but that of the Australian birdwatching community.
Owls, while not unknown visitors to Centennial Park, are rarely sighted. However last week the rarest of them all – the Powerful Owl – was spotted by our friends and avid twitchers, Dan Hutton and his father Keith Hutton (Dan is better known as one of the brothers behind the magazine, The Beast).
Why is this an exciting sighting?
The sighting of a Powerful Owl is exciting for a number of reasons, most notably that it does not appear on Ern Hoskin’s bird list (which covered a 50 year period, up until 2009, and documents over 150 species that he spotted over that time). Ern’s list only contained one owl – the Southern Boobook Owl.
Sightings of the Powerful Owl, and the recently recorded Barn Owl, appear to be relatively new additions to the Parklands’ wildlife.
What is a Powerful Owl?
The Powerful Owl is the largest recorded owl in Australia and is one of the supreme nocturnal predators in the forests of south-eastern Australia.
It is named so for its sheer size and very powerful heavy claws!
The largest species of the “hawk owl” group, the Powerful Owl measures in at 45–65 cm in length and spans 112–135 cm across the wings. Unlike most owl species, the male, weighs in at 1.15–1.7 kg and is slightly larger than the female, at 1.05–1.6 kg.
Why might the Powerful Owl have come to Centennial Park?
The Powerful Owl’s typical habitat includes mountain and coastal forests, gullies, forest margins, woodlands including sparse hilly woodlands, scrub, plantations and urban and rural parks and gardens. They feed almost exclusively on large tree-dwelling mammals, especially the Common Ringtail Possum, but they also take a few large birds.
The Grey-headed Flying Fox is also known to be a favourite food item for the owls…perhaps making Centennial Park a perfect home!
The owl sighted in Centennial Park appears to be a young adult possibly establishing a new territory and looking for a mate.
Powerful Owls Project
We have reported the sighting to, Birdlife Australia’s Birds in Backyards team, who are undertaking a Powerful Owl Project. The project is tracking and recording breeding, nesting, roosting and movement of Powerful Owls in the greater Sydney region (from Newcastle in the north to Kiama in the south and west to the Blue Mountains).
Finally, why is it important to monitor the Powerful Owl population?
We asked David Bain, a researcher from Birds in Backyards:
“The Powerful Owl is a good ‘flagship’ species to help us learn more about the conservation requirements of this species and those of other owls, as well as the needs of many other forest-dwelling species.”
“Because Powerful Owls are difficult to find and occur at such low population densities, we do not know how many of them there are in the Sydney region. As a first step towards effective conservation of the Powerful Owl, we need to be aware of the habitat used by this owl and whether its numbers are increasing or decreasing.”
David and his team are now training volunteers, including some of Centennial Parklands own twitchers, to monitor the Powerful Owl especially with the breeding season set to begin in a few months.
What you can do to help
Park visitors can report sightings of Powerful Owls by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
However, if you come across a Powerful Owl nest use caution and please do not approach it. Do not use flash photography at the nest as this may disturb and stress the birds and cause them to abandon the nest.