Spotted Owlet, Kabini
Since antiquity, owls and owlets have fascinated mankind, and different societies have invested in them an almost mythical veneer of wisdom or, depending on their cultural moorings, a darker, more malignant intelligence. While the veneration of the ‘wise owl’ has its provenance in western culture in the legend of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom who’s often depicted holding an owl, Indian folklore tends to paint the bird as a messenger of the dark forces, and, consequently, a bad omen. But whatever the worldview, the innate cleverness attributed to this species has never been in doubt. The Spotted Owlet of Kabini, featured here, may be a midget, but carries the weight of his tribe’s reputation lightly on his shoulders. One of the smallest owls around, this shy bird prefers to stay out of the limelight, and hunts by moonlight when his best-in-class night vision allows him to hunt down mice, squirrels, snakes and small insects in total silence, without giving advance notice of their impending migration to the dinner menu. He hates to be disturbed during the day, and if you ever intrude after hearing his call, you’re likely to be met by a bobbing head and a fixed stare that send out unsubtle signals reminding you of your grand aunt who was awoken from her sacred siesta by your childish pranks. Once you mumble your apologies and turn away, he may stomp back into his hole from which a happy call may emerge belying his apparent grumpiness. Chances are, you’d just interrupted a tryst with his lady love, and he’s rapidly resumed his courtship which involves bill-grasping, preening and ritual feeding: the way to a woman’s heart, in owl-dom, seems to be through her stomach! Once the heart has been breached, love’s labour bears fruit in four weeks, and she brings forth a new generation of Owlets to perpetuate the ageless legend of ‘the wise man of the forest’.