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Urban Birding: Philippine Scops Owl Breeding in Quezon City

Jops Josef writes about his second encounter with a Philippine Scops-Owl family in his neighborhood.

Philippine Scops-Owl Breeding Again in Village in the Midst of the City
by Jops Josef

The first encounter.

It has been almost a year since the Philippine Scops-Owl (PSO) was first seen in my village.  By some stroke of fate, as I and others would like to think of it, the PSO family could not have picked a better place to show up – a birder’s backyard!  They stayed for about a month, allowing more than a handful of birders and our immediate neighbors to admire it.

But as nature would have it, the juveniles grew up and started expanding their territory.  The sightings and calls became scarcer, and soon the PSO family left the confines of my backyard.  In the nights that followed, I would find myself looking outside my bedroom window, listening intently for a faint call, waiting for any sign that would indicate the family is safe and thriving.

Well, hello again.

It was by fate again that I would encounter the PSO in my village.  My mom asked me to drive her to the church.  It was still cool that evening so we opted to have the windows down while we drove.  After dropping her off and as I was about to speed away, I heard a familiar shrill call out from the church grounds.  I had no doubt it was the immature PSO calling!

I was ecstatic.  To hear an immature call again meant they’ve successfully bred again inside the village.  I quickly drove back to the house to get a flashlight and binoculars.  Now familiar with its call, it took less than 5 minutes to see the immature PSO.  A very much welcome sighting!  But with the sighting came a lot of questions – were the parents of this brood the same parents last year or were they the immature ones before, now all grown up, raising their own family?  Or were these a different set of owls?

Illustration 1: PSO family picture.  Should have been a candid shot, except for one curious little fellow :)  Photo by Maia Tañedo.
Illustration 1: PSO family picture. Should have been a candid shot, except for one curious little fellow 🙂 Photo by Maia Tañedo.

Sharing the sighting.

Since the site where the PSO was spotted this year was much bigger and more open than my backyard, it allowed for more birders to view the PSO family.  Each schedule had a good mix of lifer birders, photographers, Big Year participants and even foreign birders on tour.

But what was great about this year’s sighting is that it wasn’t only birders who were able to view the PSO family, but more importantly, a lot of village residents, security guards, and drivers were able to see them too, as the viewing time for the PSO family was right after the evening mass.  As the residents came out of the church, they would see a curious bunch of people with binoculars, scopes, huge camera lenses and flashlights – something that they have never encountered in our village, much more at night time.

Intrigued with what they saw, the residents approached our group and asked what we were looking at.  The mere mention of the word “owl” would throw them back, and make them exclaim three words – “Really?” “Where?!” “Here?!”  The birders present were more than glad to show them the PSO family.  It was rewarding to see their faces light up, matched with a gasp or a really loud “Wow!” when they did see the owl through the scope.

Illustration 2: The adult Philippine Scops-Owl. Photo by Jops Josef.
Illustration 2: The adult Philippine Scops-Owl. Photo by Jops Josef.

An opportunity to educate.

Of course, it was not to be expected that everybody would appreciate or react the same way birders would on a PSO family breeding inside a village in the midst of the city.  There were people that asked if it would be better if the owls were caught and taken care of in cages rather than have them in the wild.  But the good thing was that there were more people who were really interested and asked how did we see them, how long have they been there, why they were there and how long will they stay.  And it was good that no matter which side they were coming from, the birders present, both from the Club and foreigners, saw this an opportunity to educate and share our advocacy.

We were pleasantly surprised and touched by a mom who after seeing the owl, rushed back home to fetch her daughter and brought her to the site in order for her to the see the owl.  We were happy, that after 2 viewings, the guards were already the ones pointing where the owls were when the group of birders arrived, reporting what time they started calling, and already educating workers and household help that the owls are to be left alone and are protected by law.  They even started reporting sightings of other bird species that they see inside the village, one of which is a nesting Colasisi (imagine that!).

But I would have to say that the best reaction came from a group of foreign birders on tour who went to visit the PSO family.  The group was amazed by the enthusiasm of local birders in sharing the experience of seeing an owl with non-birders.  It was very heartwarming to hear them say that seeing the joy and excitement from the residents made the experience one of the highlights of their visit.

Hopefully, with the seed of protecting the birds and environment already planted inside the hearts and minds of the community members, the Philippine Scops-Owl, other bird species and wild life would continue to thrive inside the village.  I would like to take this opportunity to all the birders who came, and did their part in achieving this.

Illustration 3: Owl pellet.  This pellet contains the bones and other indigestible parts of an owl's prey.  After swallowing big chunks of its prey, the indigestible parts are then formed into a pellet in the bird's gizzard and then regurgitated.
Illustration 3: Owl pellet. This pellet contains the bones and other indigestible parts of an owl’s prey. After swallowing big chunks of its prey, the indigestible parts are then formed into a pellet in the bird’s gizzard and then regurgitated.
Illustration 4: Remains of another PSO prey.
Illustration 4: Remains of another PSO prey.

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