Breakfast on my doorstep

 I’m a new ranger at Kapama and have been guiding here for about 3 weeks. One morning, I was woken early by the loud, unhappy screeching of a guinea fowl, but it was only when I left my room on my way to work in the pre-dawn gloom that I very nearly stumbled over the reason for its distress: a Verreaux’s eagle-owl on the ground right in front of my bedroom door, its feathery meal clutched in its talons, but as I walked closer to the sighting the guinea fowl saw an opening and managed to escape while it sidestepped the large bird of prey.

Verreaux's eagle owl

I glanced back at the eagle-owl, which was nowhere to be seen. I gave a step forward to have a look at the injured little guinea fowl and all of a sudden I felt a wave of air rushing through my hair. As I looked up I watched as the eagle-owl swooped down unseen from the roof and instantly injured the guinea fowl only two metres away from where I was standing. Noticing my presence the owl took off, carrying its breakfast to an African Thorn tree at the nearby waterhole.

Verreaux's eagle owl

It was amazing to get close enough to admire the eagle-owl’s big pink eyelids, mottled feathers and its sheer size. Later that afternoon it flew away from the waterhole, taking what remained of his prized kill with him, I wondered if it was taking the remains of the guinea fowl to its nest. In persuit of its nest, I followed while respectively keeping my distance. The sound of chirping chicks became more evident and at about 15 metres from the waterhole the owl started to slow down as if it was about to make a landing. My eyes caught a stick nest (constructed by other birds), I couldn’t see if there was any chicks inside, but the sound was clear enough to hear the little owls, the eagle-owl has landed, passing the food into the nest.

Verreaux's eagle owl

As you might know by now, the Verreaux’s eagle-owl or giant eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus) is a large, nocturnal, African bird of prey. It is Africa’s largest owl and the third largest owl species in the world, and a close-up encounter such as this is incredibly special. Interestingly enough, it hunts at night for mostly small to medium-sized mammals, like monkeys, hares, and hyraxes, as well as birds up to the size of a bustard, so a guinea fowl would be a perfect light meal.

It’s not every day you see these magnificent nocturnal hunters, especially in the middle of the day and so close and on the ground, but no matter what the situation, if you encounter a Verreaux’s eagle-owl, stop what you are doing and enjoy the special sighting, you never know where the eagle will land next!

 

Written by: Matthew McDonald

Kapama River Lodge