As I write this, I’m watching a video of hundreds of mice running around a barn in Australia. There’s a plague of these little critters there which is causing havoc in communities and causing millions of dollars of damage to farming produce and even to domestic habitats. Some people have even had their sleep interrupted by mice in their beds and, of course, there is potential for mice-related diseases.
2020 rains and bumper crops down under have provided perfect conditions for these rodents, a pair of which can produce up to 500 offspring in a single season. One female mouse can produce a new litter every three weeks!
As we all know that every cloud has a silver lining, I imagine that, as the human population of Australia will be very concerned, some of the wildlife will be delighted. I’ve just been to South Uist, Outer Hebrides, where, not mice, but voles are abundant. Where voles are abundant, so too are owls. In Uist, you can hardly leave the house without seeing short-eared owls hunting on the moorland and machair coast. Short-eared owls are among those which regularly hunt during daylight hours so are more easily seen than some others.
Owls are among my favourite birds but until last week I’d only had fairly far views of ‘shorties’ in the Dee Estuary, where they and other raptors gather at 10 metre high tides to hunt the birds and small mammals that are driven ashore. Here, in North and South Uist, watching them and photographing them is much easier. They hunt like a barn owl, quartering the fields looking for prey and then diving down when they spot something. At a distance, short-eared owls could be mistaken for barn owls but get close and you’ll see those long one metre wings and that unmistakable face with its bright yellow eyes. They’re beautiful!
If you’re looking for any particular bird, as a general rule you should follow the food source. Birds migrate often thousands of miles, primarily, for the availability of food. Even tiny krill migrate from the bottom of the ocean where they hide during the day, to the surface where they feed during the night. Place a food source in your garden and birds will arrive. The more varied the food, the more varied the birds.
I’ve been feeding a tawny owl in my garden for three years and he’s feeding his two newly fledged owlets now. I see him every night because he knows there’s a food source arrives at dusk just like a Morrisons’ delivery. I’ve had a small family of brown rats feeding on bird seed in my garden in the last couple of weeks. Last night, as I was watching TV, I saw the owl fly down to the ground below the feeders and return shortly afterwards with one of the hapless young creatures in his claws. At present, I have an unfortunate abundance of rats. My owl has a welcome abundance of food.
Every cloud has a sliver lining…