Scotopelia peli (Pel's fishing-owl) 

Visuil [Afrikaans]; Dinidza [Shona]; Pel-visuil [Dutch]; Chouette-pÍcheuse de Pel [French]; Bindenfischeule, Fischeule [German]; Coruj„o-pesqueiro de Pel [Portuguese]

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Scotopelia peli (Pel's fishing-owl)   

Pel's fishing-owl, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

 

The Pel's fishing owl is restricted to areas surrounding major river systems, such as the Zambezi River and the Okavango Delta. It is generally localized and uncommon, preferring swamps or large tropical rivers surrounded by riverine forest. It feeds almost exclusively on fish, catching them with a similar style to the African fish eagle, but it also occasionally catches young Nile crocodiles! It usually nests in deep cavities in riverine trees, less than 20 metres from the water's edge. Here it lays 2 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for 33-38 days. Of the two chicks only one survives, the other obtains less food from its parents, and usually dies of starvation after a few days. The surviving chick stays in the nest for about 68-70 days, becoming fully independent a few months later.

Distribution and habitat

Restricted to areas surrounding major river systems, occurring in patches of sub-Saharan Africa, although absent from lowland forest. In southern Africa it occurs in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern Botswana, northern and southern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and eastern South Africa. It generally prefers swamps or large tropical rivers adjacent to riverine forest, but it may rarely move into small pans, waterholes or narrow streams. It is generally localized and uncommon, with an estimated 100 breeding pairs in the Okavango Delta.

Distribution of Pel's fishing-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 

It feeds almost exclusively on fish, hunting by first surveying the surrounding water from a low perch. Once it spots movement in an area of water, it rapidly dives with talons outstretched, before returning to its perch to feed. It may also fly in low to catch the fish without submerging itself in water, in the manner similar to the African fish eagle. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Clarias (catfish)
      • Tilapia (bream)
      • Hepsetus (pike)
      • Synodontis (squeakers)
    • reptiles
    • amphibians
      • frogs
  • Invertebrates
    • crabs
    • mussels

Breeding

  • It usually nests in deep cavities in riverine trees, less than 20 metres from the water's edge. It also uses old Hamerkop nests, where it lays its eggs either on top of the nest or in part of the collapsed roof structure.
  • Egg-laying season is from January-June, peaking from February-April.
  • It usually lays two eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for 33-38 days, while the male feeds her at the nest.
  • Of the two chicks only one survives, as the other obtains less food from its parents and usually dies of starvation after a few days. The surviving chick stays in the nest for about 68-70 days, becoming fully independent a few months later.

Threats

Globally not threatened, but Vulnerable in South Africa, probably due to human disturbance and the pollution of rivers.

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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