Outside, the night lay inebriated with its vastness. The wind was spreading from the top plane stretching far and the wide top plain of Parakkulam Hillocks on the palm fronts of Pullaravalappu. Beyond the reaches of the village on the Hillocks, late wayfarers were misguided by evil spirits ”Pottichoottu..” Who waved their fibre torches, with pulses of flame and ember until the late wayfarers remain confused as they fail to trace their direction and trail that leads to their home in the vastness of Parakkulam hillocks.
At the dead of the night, from Choondiyal, an aged peepal tree by the edge of rice fields, there erupts the eerie shaking call of mottled wood owls spread through the intricacies of the forest and echoed back from the other edge of the paddy fields….throughout the night.
The note booms again: shaking the whole world with tremulous vocalizations. Black hallucinations dim the late wayfarers sight.. as the ominous macabre bird calls shake their soul to the core, sight; That was death warning from above. At dawn, the first rays of the sun embalm them and heal them to normalcy.
In the house below, Parangodan dusted the big earthen urns which had once held the brew of his labour. The smell of toddy still lingered in the long-dried urns, Parangodan walked beneath the palms at sunset. He touched the palms and divined the sap flow, up the trunks to the buds on top. looked over great distances, he fancied the palm tree bending before him, so no need to climb as his forefathers told.
He tapped the sap and brewed it into sweet-sour toddy.there was a noisy wind on the palm fronds. the palm trees stood in clusters holding the patches of sky at its shoulders .it was Pullaravalappu . by the side of Venmaram rice fields. Sunbeams peeped shyly here and there even during peak summer days. Parangodan had identified an old palmyra. He wanted to fell that tree. His cowshed needs repair. He wanted Palmyra wood panels for the flooring of the cowshed. His axe started to hit the tree constantly for along time.
Kunhotha was returning after fishing in the pond in the corner of paddy fields. He never believed in books or schools. He is immersed deeply in the book of Nature and organic experiences.
As soon as Kunhotha reached Pullaravalappu palm groves ,the palm tree came down with a thud.
A deep, harsh note boomed under the palms, Clouds of birds rose from the treetops,
and something squealed and ran in the undergrowth.
”An ordinary owl voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the owl. and then at a lower scale. Kunhotha found an owl. Medium-sized patchy-looking owl with dark eyes.
He liked the concentric barring on the face and it had no ear tufts. There is a Medium-sized patchy-looking owl with dark eyes. The densely-marked owl’s gaze was spine chilling.
He seized the owl suddenly and roughly and put in his round basket woven with thin bamboo strips where he used to collect fish,crabs and other similar stuff. He did not hesitate to leave Pullaravalappu immediately. When he reached home ,he opened the basket and tied the leg of the owl. He examined the bird thoroughly. It has a distinctive, well developed facial disc, extending equally above and below the eyes.
The facial disc is whitish with concentric, fine, black barring and random rufous orange mottling. The curved beak is black. The irises are reddish-brown and the eyelids are coral-red. The chin is whitish. There are narrow black and white barring in the medium-sized tail. The owl lacked “ear” tufts…Kunhotha often saw then on the aged wrinkled mango tree dozing in pairs on the branches with thick foliage.. once he had seen the bird falling silently on a scurrying rat undergrowth and taking off vertically to the branches without making any sound of the wing movements it was a silent attack in darkness.
Even the sensitive rat failed to sense its deadly presence. So their feathers must be specialised in design so as they hardly make any sound as they swoop down on the prey. Kunhotha had seen the birds roost in large mango tree during the day choosing a branch with dense foliage. The bird is seen in sacred snake groves of Chekkottuparampu and clusters of palm trees on the edges of cultivated rice fields.
.. He fed it with cereals and put a waterfilled coconut shell in front of it. The bird rotated its neck in amazing 270-degree flexibility and gazed into his eyes. But it failed to chill Kunhothas will power. He put it in the bamboo strip woven cage for keeping fowls and kept it in the open space close to cattle shed. In the evening he went outside for fishing and returned when the sun came down.As he was trailing towards his home he heard the tremulous vocalisations from the location of his house. The call is a loud, quavering, eerie “chuhua-aa” sound. and followed by macabre ”poovvvva pooovvvvva poovvvaavvvaaa” with an echo effect.
When he reached the front yard he found that all the neighbours have gathered around the cattle shed, most of them sported a terror-stricken face.
His mother came forward and bursted out ” If you want to kill us.. kill us ‘directly ”..the sentimentality bursted out’
”If this evil bird calls from south death is imminent.”.Korappettan asserted.that can be traced in the north of the bird call within days,
Echunni Warrier added ”if it calls from the north , veethuzhi ( child birth ), is predicted in southern direction.. You can see the purple coloured lips just above the beak, that is capable of squirting milk upon the lips of infants immediately after their birth..”
”Its also a death, each delivery is a death for a mother,, and ”marupilla”(placenta) is dead and buried in veethuzhi.” Meenakshi edathi added.”Anyway it is a bird of ill omen..it is the messenger of Kalan the god of death..you see its spine chilling gaze…the lidless gaze..the tremulous scarry call.”
”My grandma used to chant mantras when she hears the mortal sound ”Amminikkutty reminded.
My aunt would put the iron knife into the embers of the hot oven,,as the iron gets red hot the owl will be burned to death.
Kunhotha remained dumbfounded ..” if you don’t release the bird at once , I will do that..his aged father warned him..
Kunhotha, prowled towards the cattle shed. Others accompanied him with lanterns and wicks throwing giant shadows on the courtyard. He opened the cage the bird gazed at him moving its neck clockwise and took in his hands and it and flung it upwards. The mottled wood owl flew away and perched on the tall mango tree and the whole space was reverberated by its tremolous vocalizations.”..pooovvvavva,”, It is the story of late 1960s..
Both Satheesettan and I have been tracing the calls of the mottled wood owl and registering the death reported.. We felt that there is no proof that the birds call suggests death. Any way the spine chilling call haunted us. I have been tracing and noting the bird calls for the last five years and came to the conclusion that different birds roost in different regions. As we start the bike at five a.m. we can trace the bird call from the southern side of Nayyur, and after five minutes when we reach Pullarepadi we can trace calls from Ayilakkunnu. and at the same time, the call has been reported from Perassannur.
The bird grew to be the centre of attraction as it started to roost on trees very close to the library in Varattippalliyal.The birds used to sit in pairs dozing on a branch hidden by foliage.when the sun comes down the bird may sit near the library and emit tremulous vibrations,, and later it sits on the tall tree of Balasubramanian and again calls macabre..the routine continued the library children’s unit held a debate on the superstitions connected with the bird call.
”The mottled wood owl (Strix ocellata) is a species of large owl found in India. .The strix is described as a large-headed bird with transfixed eyes, rapacious beak, greyish white wings,[a] and hooked claws in Ovid’s ”Fasti .” Its fed on human flesh and blood. These mottled wood owl species are endemic to India. Unconfirmed reports of their sightings were reported from Myanmar and Pakistan. These mottled wood owl species have moderate forest dependence. These species occur in altitudes from 0 to 100 meters. They are found in gardens and thin deciduous forests adjacent to dry thorn forests or farmland.” Ramakrishnan sir introduced the bird.
”We call this bird Kuttichoolan, Netilan, Thatchankozhi and Kalan kozhi. The upper parts of the mottled wood owl species are greyish with rufous-brown and grey mottling and vermiculation. The breeding season of these mottled wood owl species is from November to April in peninsular India. The laying season is during February and March in northern India. These owl species are monogamous.”
”Its a lowland species, favouring groves and clusters of trees in open plains and on the edges of cultivated areas.”
”The nocturnal bird is widely known to be a protector in the Indo-European culture, popularly in the Greek mythology as goddess Athena depicted in the owl form. The Feng Shui owl symbol could be used as a shield against any misfortune as well as reversing bad luck and negativity. ”
The artificial ecosystems of these mottled wood owl species include agricultural lands, pasture lands, rural gardens, plantations, urban parks and other urban areas. The natural ecosystems of these species include tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, wooded plains, trees with dense foliage, tropical and subtropical dry shrublands.
They are easily detected by their distinctive tremulous eerie calls at dawn and dusk. The characteristic call is a duet of the male and female while other notes include a low hoot and a screech.
.Diet and feeding habits
The diet of these mottled wood owl species is mostly rodents. Rats, mice, palm squirrels, small birds, crabs, lizards and large insects are their primary food. .The mottled wood owl species are non-migratory resident birds.
Reproduction and breeding habits
These mottled wood owl species nest in natural hollows and holes in trees. The nest is not lined. In rare cases, they have been observed to nest in abandoned stick nests of large birds. The typical clutch contains two or three creamy-white ovoid eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about 30-32 days.
‘From the vastu’s point of view, keeping owl at home is considered auspicious. It is said to remove financial troubles and shoo off negative energies. It even reverses bad luck and negativity. In Feng Shui, it is one of the most sought-after items. India, there’s a superstitious belief that an owl sitting on top of a house is an ominous sign of looming danger or destruction.they are treated as messengers of death.”. These are all unscientific, no proof is produced, no studies were conducted. The ornithologist stressed .”
”But we have reports of scientific studies ..with shocking results..”The report published by TRAFFIC INDIA – the wildlife trade monitoring network of the WWF and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – has revealed that black magic and sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos is slowly driving various owl species towards extinction”.
Ramakrishnan sir continued passionately” A report Titled as ‘Imperilled Custodians of the Night’, the report, investigated and authored by ornithologist Abrar Ahmed, comprises Samir Sinha of WWF as the project supervisor and Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) as the project advisor.”
”Bird markets in Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid are among places that cater to huge demand, especially during festive seasons. The price of one owl can range up to lakhs of rupees, depending upon the size and species. Poachers sell the birds for ritual slaughter during the night of Diwali. Blind faith has led to exploitation of this unique wildlife species, thus threatening their very existence in the wild.” We were shocked to `hear the owl trade news.
”Illegal poaching is a thriving industry. Driven by religious myths and superstitious beliefs, some people catch and kill these beautiful birds for their body parts—including talons, skulls, bones, feathers, meat, and blood—which are then used in rituals and traditional medicine.”
”India’s most anticipated festival has come and gone, and just like every year, countless owls face a cruel fate at the hands of poachers who cater to ignorance and misguided beliefs. While the Festival of Lights illuminates our lives with joy, fervour and celebrations, it casts a dark shadow over the lives of thousands of owls that fall victim to human exploitation. Driven by religious myths and superstitious beliefs, these birds are poached for their body parts such as talons, skulls, bones, feathers, meat, and blood, which are then used in talismans, black magic, traditional medicines, etc”
sir continued to enlighten the audience..
”The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the owl species and has listed it as of “Least Concern”. The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Evaluated’ for the mottled wood owl (Strix ocellata) and listed in Appendix II.”
Nationwide studies and investigations were conducted from 1998-2008 to compile this report highlighting trade of owls.
The BNHS has strongly urged effective implementation by the government of the existing ban on hunting and trade of owls and its body parts.
”[Although hunting and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, thousands of owls are trapped and traded every year,” the report said.
”Destruction of habitat, especially forests with old matured trees, is another major reason for their decline.” sir continued passionately.
”The report said that the owl trade is conducted in both urban and forested areas and the main centres are located in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bihar.”
”Black magic practitioners and sorcerers prescribe the use of owls and their body parts such as the skull, feathers, ear tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones for certain ceremonial rituals, the report said.’
”It also highlights the various ways of utilisation of owls and owl body parts for black magic, street performances, taxidermy, for eating, for use in occult medicines, for capturing other birds, for decorative purposes and gambling in owl eggs.”Ramakrishnan sir continued.
”According to the report, of the 30 owl species found in India, 15 have been found to be used in the domestic live bird trade. Large species, particularly those with false “ear-tufts” (feather extensions on the head), are the most highly sought after by traders since these are considered to have greater magical properties.”
”The trade also includes small owl species. These 15 species are: Spotted Owlet, Barn Owl, Rock—Eagle Owl, Jungle Owlet, Collared Scops—Owl, Brown Fish—Owl, Dusky Eagle—Owl, Mottled Wood—Owl, Asian Barred Owlet, Collared Owlet, Brown Wood—Owl, Oriental Scops—Owl, Spot—bellied Eagle—Owl, Tawny Fish—Owl and the Eastern Grass—Owl. Awareness regarding the abominable treatment of these birds is incredibly important to curb cruelty and poaching of wildlife.,
”A nationwide awareness drive is necessary to highlight the great usefulness of owls in controlling rat population and to educate people about the false nature of superstitious beliefs”
he stressed the need to conserve these bird species… the club members promised to a conservation group , instantly the bird began to call violently..But we thought why do we dub the heart-rendering song of a romantic lover as a death call??!!