Secret life of the Powerful Owl

Ku-ring-gai Council’s surveillance reveals the details

Photograph by Chris Charles

Ku-ring-gai Council has completed a unique 2 month surveillance of the threatened Powerful Owl in Ku-ring-gai, uncovering the nocturnal habits of the secretive bird as well as critical research which will be used to protect the owls’ survival in the area.

Photograph by Chris Charles
Photograph by Chris Charles

The Powerful Owl is Australia’s largest owl with a wingspan of up to 135cm and is known for its yellow eyes and intense stare. Powerful Owls are more often heard than seen because of  their distinctive slow, deep and resonant “wooo-hooo”. Ku-ring-gai, with its many reserves and old remnant eucalypts adjoining National Parks, provides excellent habitat for Powerful Owls, with 8 of the 60 recorded breeding pairs in the Sydney region found here in Ku-ring-gai (according to data from BirdLife Australia).

To complete the surveillance, Council’s Natural Areas Officer and photographer Chris Charles monitored a pair of Powerful Owls at a known breeding spot in Ku-ring-gai and set up infrared cameras to capture their movements.

The story which unfolded highlighted the intense competition for hollow nesting resources, the large number of prey species required by Powerful Owls during the breeding season and a number of other challenges faced by this species.

The project confirmed that nesting hollows are highly contested property in Ku-ring-gai, with Sulphur-crested cockatoos competing with the owls for the prized locations. Powerful Owls nest in very large hollows in old trees and the continued clearing of trees for urban development, and policies such as the 10/50 vegetation clearing code have placed further pressure on Powerful Owls.

The project also captured how Powerful Owls mainly fed on medium to large tree-dwelling mammals, such as Brushtail and Ringtail Possums. During the period of observation, the male owl was bringing home a Ringtail Possum almost every night.

“Ku-ring-gai is a biodiversity hotspot and we are always trying to learn more, so we can protect native wildlife and threatened species found here,” said Ku-ring-gai Council Mayor Cheryl Szatow.

“The Powerful Owl study will help guide bushland management activities such as control burning, weed control, development assessment and conservation policies.

“Despite the challenges that the Powerful Owl face we are so fortunate to have a number of successful breeding sites in Ku-ring-gai and we will continue to monitor the majestic species in order to help protect them in the future,” she said.

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As publisher of The Kuringai Examiner, I have an interest in all things on the North Shore, particularly news, sport and food. I'm always on the outlook for something unique and original to bring to my readers.