Raising Owls
Monday 1st October 2012

Taronga’s Mosman Zoo is lucky enough to have Sooty Owl chicks to call our own! These beautiful young birds hatched almost two months ago, just two days apart on August 3rd and 5th.

Our keeper Grey Fisher has been a father to the pair, hand-raising the chicks and making sure that they grow up to be healthy adults! When they’re old enough, Phoenix and Dragon will eventually be part of the free flight bird show at Taronga, and you’ll be able to see them in full flight!

Raising the owls has been a unique experience for Grey, as these are the first Sooty Owls to be representing the species at Taronga Zoo. Sooty Owls are similar to  Common Barn Owls in terms of their Queensland habitat, their hunting patterns, their size and their disc-like facial structure, however, the keepers are keeping a close eye on the two chicks to learn as much as possible about this unique species.

Like most youngsters, the owls need regular feeds both by day and by night, so Grey has been a full-time parent to the pair. The two birds have been growing up fast, and our keepers have had the pleasure of tracking their physical and behavioural developments. The young Sooty Owls’ personalities are changing as they are growing up. While Dragon, the younger of the pair has been the more curious of the two, Grey says that Phoenix also becoming more inquisitive and is more and more willing to explore the surroundings. The pair are becoming more self-aware, discovering new ways to move their heads, spread their wings and even balance on their feet without having to rely on their lower legs to stay upright. Grey explains that the owls’ newfound confidence has seen them wondering around, but fortunately they’re still moving slowly enough for him to catch them!

A common misconception about owls is that they make a ‘hoot’ sound, but in reality, each species of owl has a distinct call. The young chicks trill and chirrup, but when they grow a little older their call will sound more like a screech or a whistle. As the two owls become adults, their physical appearance changes rapidly. The first couple of months of their lives see them covered in a soft gray down to keep them warm, while their permanent pin feathers grow from underneath. At around one and a half months the owls still have some soft down remaining, but already the owls have a clear facial disc from the feathers on their faces. This beautiful disc serves an important function, acting as a sort of ‘satellite’ to pick up noise ensure that the amplified sound is carried through to the birds’ ears. Closer to the centre of the disc, surrounding the beak, the longer feathers play a different function, acting as sensors for Sooty Owls who have excellent long-distance vision but struggle to see things up close, preferring to ‘touch’ them with their facial feathers instead. 

Grey is sure that he’ll see the owls develop more over the coming weeks as they grow towards their adult size! To keep track of the latest Sooty Owl news join us on Facebook.