(Continued from Owl Gallery p.4)
Mid-July 2006: Mladen thinks he may have found where the owl pictured on page 4 nests (i.e. where he or she and a mate rear young in the spring). The site is an abandoned wooden hut just 15 m from the tree where the photos were taken in June last year. Under the roof there is a hole, which the owls appear to be using to gain entry. Mladen found owl droppings, feathers and pellets beneath the hole -- see the pics below. Vesna's niece, Jelena, a third-year biology student, examined the pellets and found the bones of birds, rodents and a small snake. On 19th July Mladen saw an owl flying out of the hut, though his impression is that it was too dark to be the owl on page 4 and pictured here on the right.
In fact it's highly unlikely that this female would have been in another owl pair's territory, so one can safely assume that it is her territory and her nest site. Here are some pics of the feathers along with some pellets and their contents.
Left: Two feathers found outside the hut. The one on the left is definitely a Tawny Owl's and is a chest feather. It's pale enough to be from the owl shown above and on page 4. The feather on the right looks as if it's from a darker owl.
Right: Photos of some pellets and their contents (prepared by Jelena). A bird's wishbone can be seen in the photo at bottom right, and there's part of a rodent's skull in the lower left corner. But what's the curious brown material at top right . . ? One bit of it is shown magnified below.
A posting by Vesna on The Owl Pages solved the mystery of these strangely shaped brown constituents of the owl pellet. They are the anterior digging parts of the forelimbs of the European Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa). As these are nocturnal creatures that spend most of their lives underground, one supposes the owl must have caught them during the crickets' mating season, when they may fly several kilometers. The Wikipedia entry for these creatures says that in Asia fried mole crickets are considered "quite delicious". So, another example of the Tawny Owl's omnivorous inclinations -- and good taste!
Detailed pics of mole cricket forelimbs can be seen here (in French).
The identification was kindly provided by Tatjana Jovanovic (Tanja Sova) on The Owl Pages forum. She is a biologist who lives in Arizona but who originally comes from Belgrade, which is not so far from where Vesna lives. She says that mole crickets are common in the Tawny Owl diet. Tanja has a gallery at Owl Pages, which features some of her work on owl pellets in Serbia.
Postscript Dec 2007
Since this page was written Vesna has started her own website. These and other owl pellet pics, plus some more detailed photos of mole cricket forelimbs, can be seen on this page (in english). There's also evidence that owls take thrushes (blackbird?). This excellent and growing site is well worth a visit; it's called Biodiversity of the Vugrovec area. The Butterflies and Moths pages are now up too.
Nice pic of a Red Squirrel by Vesna. In fact owls' and squirrels' paths do cross quite frequently. Grey Squirrels tease tawnies, and tawnies don't like them at all. The reason for the hostility is very likely that they compete for nest sites. A female squirrel regularly makes a drey in our nestbox outside the owl breeding season. Squirrels don't seem to form a large part of the tawny's diet, but tawnies are known to catch and eat them occasionally.
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The Tawny Owl from Vugrovec: nesting site found?