Bhutan will add one more feather to its bird diversity, and that’s a literal. The discovery of the lone Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) has increased the number to 685 species.
The lone Barn Owl was spotted at Zomlithang plantation area in Punakha in the Jigme Dorji National Park. The sighting of the Barn Owl was confirmed by a Senior Forester, Kencho Gyeltshen, currently stationed at Lunana Park Range.
Kencho Gyeltshen chanced upon the bird sitting on a cypress tree on April 4, this year during a birding expedition for a group of Australian birding tourist in the area.
Kencho Gyeltshen said that during the lunch time, they were distracted by a group of large billed crows in commotion on one particular tree within the plantation area. That was when they sighted a Barn Owl hiding within the canopy of a cypress tree.
“I’m an avid bird watcher myself. Almost at the first glance, I could validate that this is a discovery of new bird species in the Country,” said Kencho Gyeltshen. He added that the group including him was very excited over the sighting and immediately documented it in picture.
The Barn Owl although found on all continents except Antarctica was never recorded in Bhutan. This has been confirmed by reference to birds of Bhutan and more importantly Central Ornithological database maintained by Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) in Bumthang. Many other reference books were also used before finally claiming the discovery.
A pioneer bird specialist with UWICE, Sherub also established that the Barn Owl is the new record for Bhutan.
According to Kencho Gyeltshen, the owl might have been existent in the area long time since the bird is a native resident. “Most of the Owl families do not migrate rather they stick to one place for a long time,” he said. He also attributed the late discovery to the nocturnal habit of the bird saying that Owls usually do not appear in daylight.
In order to reconfirm, Kencho Gyeltshen returned to the same place looking for the bird almost three to four times. But it was only after 10 days that he again sighted the bird in the same area.
The Barn Owl is characterized with unmarked white face, containing blank eyes, white to golden-buff under parts finely spotted with black and golden-buff. The bird carries a grey upper part which is finely spotted with black and white.
When in flight, its wings and tail appears uniform, lacking any prominent tail barring or wing patches. The Barn Owl makes a variety of eerie screeching and hissing noises. It is also known to reside near human settlements particularly in cultivation area.