As if catching a mere glimpse of a Pel’s fishing owl isn’t breath-taking enough, Xobega Island is seasonally home to a breeding pair of these unique and elusive, large owls, offering guests at camp a very special sighting indeed. During the dry season when the water is lower, and therefore clearer, Pel’s fishing owls nest in hollows in trees, laying two eggs, but ultimately rearing only one chick. They are rarely seen unexpectedly, and only the locals of the Okavango Delta are able to seek them out and identify them in the dark green shade of the island forests where this elusive bird likes to hide out.
After following the give-away rush of giant wings in the tree tops and squinting desperately into the dark green forest, your Xobega Island guide points to the hollow of a tree. There it is – peeking out of the nest – a set of dark black eyes belonging to the unmistakable stare of a Pel’s fishing owl, gazing back at you. This is an incredibly special moment shared with an owl so many birders are desperate to see, and here we watch them in a territory they have chosen to nest in.
These unique owls are ranked 5th heaviest owl in the world, and they differ from most owls in that their feet are exposed and not covered by feathery boots. The underside of their tarsi have spiky, scale-like skin, which aids in gripping the fish and frogs they aim for in shallow water. Pel’s fishing owls are fairly noisy flyers when compared to other owls, and this is because they do not have the soft edges to their wing feathers, as they don’t have to be quiet when hunting. Their hearing is not acute, as they fish according to what they can see, rather than what they can hear.
The large, rufous-coloured Pel’s fishing owl can be heard on Xobega Island in the dead of night. It’s call forms part of the African island lullaby that helps you drift off to sleep out in the wilderness. A deep, sonorous, ‘boom’ characterises part of the Pel’s call that rings out as you are drifting off to sleep in your canvas tented bedroom, under a starry African sky.
Take a look at what other birding specialities you can look forward to while on safari in the Okavango Delta at Xobega Island Camp, here.