Asio capensis (Marsh owl) 

Vlei-uil [Afrikaans]; iNkovane, umShwelele [Zulu]; Kakuru (also applied to other owl species) [Kwangali]; Sephooko (also applied to Barn owl and African grass-owl) [South Sotho]; Zizi (generic name for owl) [Shona]; Xikhotlwana (also applied to African scops-owl) [Tsonga]; Lerubise (also applied to African grass-owl and Barn owl) [Tswana]; Afrikaanse velduil [Dutch]; Hibou du Cap [French]; Kapohreule [German]; Coruja-dos-pāntanos [Portuguese]

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Asio capensis (Marsh owl)  Asio capensis (Marsh owl) 

Marsh owl. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

Marsh owl in flight. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

The Marsh owl has populations scattered across Botswana, Zimbabwe and large areas of South Africa, living mainly in tall grassland. It usually hunts in the day, eating insects but also small vertebrates, mainly hunting on the wing. It usually nests in a slight depression in the ground, surrounded by dense grass and weeds, making it difficult to find. Here it lays 2-6, usually 2-4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female, for about 27-28 days. The male does all the hunting, storing his prey in "caches", to be eaten later by either him or the female. The chicks stay in the nest for about 14-18 days, after which they crawl around the surrounding bush for a few weeks, at least until they learn to fly, becoming independent about a month later.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Ethiopia to southern Africa, where it is uncommon to locally common in northern Namibia, northern and central Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and east-central South Africa. As it name suggests it generally prefers marshes, however it also occupies tall grassland, reeds, sedges and Acacia woodland.

Distribution of Marsh owl in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Food 

Usually hunts in the day, eating insects but also small vertebrates. When hunting, it flies low over the ground, searching for prey and occasionally swerving or hovering. Once a prey item has been spotted it rapidly dives to the ground, picking it up with its talons before storing it in a nearby hiding place to be eaten later. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Breeding

  • It nests in a slight depression in the ground, concealed in dense grass and weeds.
Asio capensis (Marsh owl)   

Marsh owl nest with eggs, Sericea farm, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

 
  • Egg-laying season is from October-December in Botswana, and mainly from March-April elsewhere in southern Africa.
  • It lays 2-6, usually 2-4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 27-28 days. The male does all the hunting, storing his prey in caches to be eaten later by either him or the female.
  • The chicks stay in the nest for about 14-18 days, after which they crawl around the surrounding bush for a few weeks, at least until they learn to fly. The fledglings are thought to remain dependent on their parents until they are about 80 days old.

Threats

Not threatened, in fact common in large areas of southern Africa.

References

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

 

 

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