Suffolk Sanctuary Rescued Obese Owl Too Heavy to Fly

245-gram owl found in ditch after gorging on mice and voles

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary rescued an overweight owl, 30% heavier than it should have been, the Huffington Post reported. At 245 grams, the owl was determined to be too obese to fly. Ordinarily, owls are spotted flying at night, rather than sitting in a ditch in daylight.

Birdwatchers with the sun going down
Bird watchers try spotting owls at dusk when the nocturnal creatures are most active. Photo by skapuka / Shutterstock

According to the Huffington Post article, England’s Suffolk Owl Sanctuary took in an owl that had been found in a ditch, unable to fly. Since being wet can inhibit the flight abilities of airborne animals, rescuers assumed the owl’s puffiness came from being soaking wet. However, after a short period of time, the staff placed her on the scales and found out that she weighed 245 grams, which is one-third over the average weight of other owls. Staff are blaming her obesity on simple overindulgence, claiming that the area in which she was found had an overabundance of voles and mice due to a mild winter.

She has spent several weeks at the sanctuary since her rescue, reportedly losing 20 to 30 grams and working towards being released back into the wild. Spotting owls at night is a popular hobby for bird enthusiasts—as long as the owls are in a healthy condition to travel from treetop to treetop.

Spotting Owls, Other Than “Fat Owlbert”

Birding is a popular hobby worldwide, and night birding is a challenging component of it for obvious reasons. Without daylight illuminating the trees, birds blend in with their nighttime surroundings far more easily. However, there are several best practices that can help even the most inexperienced birder to spot nocturnal species, such as owls—provided the birds haven’t put on too much weight to fly.

“Patience is essential when night birding,” said James Currie, host of Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV. “As with daytime birding, be aware of your surroundings at all times. This is especially relevant at night when stumbles and falls are more likely. And then, be as quiet as possible; most nocturnal bird species have excellent hearing.”

Currie also recommended the occasional use of a flashlight when night birding. He said that when aiming your flashlight at the trees, it can help to look for “eyeshine,” the mirror-like reflection from owls’ eyes. However, the most involved tool for night birding is making use of sound.

Utilizing Sound

“If you’re focusing specifically on owls, calls are a vital part of your success,” Currie said. “Most owl species only call occasionally and are extremely hard to track down. The best way to see them is to call them in.”

According to Currie, there are three ways to call owls. Birders can imitate owl calls themselves, make use of previous recordings, or use sound equipment to capture and play back owl calls in the moment.

First is the imitation of an owl call. “Some calls are very simple, such as the saw-whet and the northern pygmy owl calls,” he said. “Both of these beautiful, small owls have simple and repeated ‘toots’ that are relatively easy to replicate. Other species, like screech owls, are more difficult to replicate, but some accomplished birders can be surprisingly good mimics with a bit of practice.”

Second is the use of pre-recorded sounds to attract an owl’s attention. Currie recommended birding apps for smartphones that feature calls; though, he warned that a birder will likely want to hook up better speakers than their phone’s speakers, since the call must sound authentic and most phones have tinny sound reproduction.

Finally, there’s “playback.” “This is arguably the most effective tool for calling in an owl, but [it] requires the presence of a calling owl in the area and some pretty advanced equipment,” Currie said. “Playback is the practice of using a directional microphone to record a bird’s call and then play back the exact call to the bird. The reason this is so effective is that many species of birds, just like us, have distinct dialects—in other words, the same species from California might sound slightly different to a bird from New York.”

He added that the reason playback can be so effective is that if a human heard their exact voice calling to them, they, too, would likely wish to investigate.

Provided the owls are up in the sky where they belong, rather than hitting the all-you-can-eat mouse buffet, spotting them at night can prove a challenging but rewarding hobby.

James Currie contributed to this article. Currie holds a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London. Mr. Currie hosts Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV, a popular birding show airing on Discovery Communications’ Destination America.