The largest of Africa’s fishing owls, the Pel’s is found in large trees along slow flowing rivers, pans and estuaries. The teddy bear like owl is ginger coloured with large dark brown eyes. Given that its prey lives underwater the owl hunts by sight rather than sound, this means that they don’t have the usual concave facial disk which other owls use for detecting prey by sound. Globally they are not under threat but are classed as vulnerable in South Africa due to polluted waterways and industry taking water out of the larger rivers.
As you’d expect, the main diet of the Pel’s fishing owl is fish. They tend to catch prey weighing 100 to 200 g but have been known to take fish up to 2 kg.
The Pel’s fishing owl detects prey by any ripples that are created when fish come to the surface.
The Pel’s fishing owl will fluff up its head feathers when alarmed, this makes its head appear really large.
Given that its prey lives underwater the Pel’s fishing owl hunts by sight rather than sound, this means that they don’t have the concave facial disk that other owls use to hone in on the sound of their prey.
The toes of the Pel’s fishing owl are covered in sharp barbs (spiricules) which help it to keep a grip on its slippery prey.
When calling the Pel’s fishing owl can be heard up to 3 km away.
Because its prey lives underwater the Pel’s fishing owl doesn’t need to fly silently to avoid detection. It therefore lacks the soft front edges to its flight feathers which most other owls possess.
As well as fish the Pel’s fishing owl will hunt frogs, crabs, large insects, small crocodiles and forage for freshwater muscles.