Time to give a hoot: Powerful owl faces threatened status Aus-wide

A pair of powerful owls in a Mount Evelyn backyard. Picture: COURTESY CLARE WORSNOP.

To hear the slowly uttered whoo-hoo of a powerful owl from the top of a hollow tree is a privilege synonymous with Mount Evelyn life. This unique pleasure has never been more precious, with recent bushfires hitting hard on Australia’s already rare owl population.

According to Australia’s peak bird conservation organisation BirdLife Australia, the powerful owl may soon be declared threatened in every Australian state, following wide levels of forest destruction across the country.

“Fires often have devastating impacts on trees that are 100 to 500 years old – the trees that forest owls nest in. It’s now more important than ever to identify remaining owl breeding hollows,” said Dr Robert Clemens, Powerful Owl Project Coordinator at BirdLife Australia.

“It’s something that might happen. It’s still an open question – we are looking at whether the case is strong enough for national listing especially after the fires.

“Some people are making the correct point that while 30% of the owls habitats were ruined there still might be patches that owls can come back and do okay,” Mr Clemens added.

President of Mount Evelyn Environment Protection and Progress Association (MEEPPA), Clare Worsnop said the chance these owls might be listed as threatened highlights the importance of protecting local habitats.

“They’re only found along the East Coast, that’s why having their status raised to threatened nationally is sad but important and means we really need to protect all aspects of our habitat,” she said.

“There are historic records of owls sitting in trees in 1901 and 1902. They’re part of Mount Evelyn, they’re part of our emblem. It’s a privilege to have them here,” Ms Worsnop explained.

According to Ms Worsnop, when the Ash Wednesday bushfires went through the owls took five to ten years to come back.

“They (fires) burn the trees and kill the food that the owls would eat. Even if possums survive there’s nothing for the possums to eat – it all in turn has a huge impact on owls,” she explained.

Despite grave concerns for the powerful owl population nationwide, Ms Worsnop told the Star Mail that MEEPPA is currently aware of three pairs of owls living in Mount Evelyn.

“They have always been part of my life because they live in my garden,” Ms Worsnop said.

She also urged the community to be cautious as owls will be dispersing from their parents hollows anytime over the next month.

“During this time you’ll find them in strange places in the middle of the city where they wouldn’t normally be, looking for an area where that isn’t already occupied. They’re very vulnerable and may possibly starve if they haven’t learnt the skills of hunting,” Ms Worsnop said.

“They may come closer to the ground, people need to be aware and look for signs of owls in distress and make sure they contact somewhere like Healesville Sanctuary, council, vets or zoos.

Ms Worsnop’s advice to bring the powerful owl back from the brink was for more people to become aware of what the owls need to survive and to replant and revegetate forest areas.

“A healthy environment means a healthy community, they work hand in hand,” she said.