Several of Kenya’s birds have myths and legends associated with them. Some good, some bad. Of all birds that have superstitious beliefs linked to them in Kenya, owls are probably the most famous (or rather the most infamous) group.
This is because they are regarded as bad omens or signs of evil in many traditions across the country. As a result, they are often persecuted on sight. There are also some beliefs about their eggs having magical powers. Such beliefs have now become a serious threat to owls in Kenya. The roots of these beliefs are complex but it’s important to try and debunk them and enlighten people on the real importance of owls to us and our ecosystems. The reality is that owls are simply birds, just like any other. They are highly specialized to a nocturnal lifestyle (active at night) and so have several features that make them unique. They are the eagles and hawks of the night and are very important in keeping our environment healthy by controlling the populations of various small animals, including agricultural pests.
Here are just a few of the 19 species of owls that can be found in Kenya:
The disc-like shape of owls’ heads and their big forward-facing eyes give them a unique look that might also be associated with the myths about them. This unique head shape is however a perfect design that makes owls the efficient predators they are. The disc-shaped face helps them to hone in on the slightest sound as they listen for their prey at night. Their sense of hearing is extremely acute. Many times better than ours. Their eyes are large to maximize the light they can capture at night. The eyes face forward to give them binocular vision, just like any other predator that hunts by sight e.g. cats or eagles.
Owls are not bad omens. Having them around is in fact a good thing. Next time you see one in your neighbourhood, don’t kill it. Remember that it is doing you a service by eating the rats in your compound or farm at night.
If you’d like to go out and see Kenya’s amazing owls for yourself, it’s always a good idea to get a professional birding guide to help you find them. Feel free to contact me for recommendations on good guides that will help you see some owls! And if you see some owls anywhere, please share your observations with firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute to the Kenya Bird Map project.
I hope this has been insightful. Feel free to share this article and to leave a comment below about what you think of owls. If you enjoyed it, come back next Thursday for the next part of the Ndege Wetu series.
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