My first African grass owl sighting happened yesterday morning along the N17.
The image is not the greatest - I had to shoot through the windscreen...
The only other South African owl that the grass owl Tyto capensis
can be confused with is the barn owl that is slightly smaller and markedly slighter in build and has golden brown upperparts as opposed to the grass owl's upperparts' dark sooty-brown appearance, with stronger contrast between the upper and lower body. To my mind the facial mask and head generally appeared much larger that that of the barn owl as well.
Its habitat overlaps with the marsh owl, but it shouldn't be confused with this specie as the differences are obvious - both at rest and in flight.
When disturbed the grass owl will fly directly away for a short distance before dropping straight down into the grass.
The grass owl is considered vulnerable in South Africa with population estimated at less than 5000 birds; locally extinct in areas where they were previously recorded. The combined pressure from development, fire mismanagement, land clearing for agriculture, overgrazing, afforestation and roadkill are of serious concern for the species.
The species requires rank vegetation such as the tall grasses of the highveld region, usually near marshes. Here it will roost and nest on the ground, forming tunnels in the grass. It flushes reluctantly if disturbed, quickly dropping back into the grass. Grass Owls are largely nocturnal, emerging shortly after dusk.
The diet consists primarily of rodents, particularly vlei rats, but also birds, reptiles, frogs and insects.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Working Group runs a project near Springs in Gauteng that addresses the high incidence of owl mortalities along the N17 highway in that area. Most affected are the Marsh Owl Asio capensis
and the African Grass Owl. The project is working with the local farmers to conserve areas of their land for these birds, and with various transport companies, in an attempt to reduce the impact that transport trucks have on owls. The concept of ‘owl restaurants’ is also being tested to lure rodents away from the road, thereby moving the owls to safer hunting grounds. This area is farmed to produce maize and the crop transport spill attract prey animals to the transport routes causing a catch 22 situation...
Grass Owls usually hunt by making a fast strike to the ground whilst in flight; about 90% of strikes are unsuccessful.