GThe little owl sits at the back of tube 679 and feels disturbed. He turns one of his big yellow eyes and his brown dappled back towards the viewer and doesn’t think you should shine a flashlight into his apartment in the middle of the day. At least he didn’t fly away like his colleague, who fled when the people arrived. Little owls hear very well, says Bernd Zürn, even when the cars hum past on Raunheimer Strasse next door. They were very good at distinguishing cars and intruders. Sometimes you can hear them cracking in warning.
In the open area south of Weilbach there are a few fruit trees in the field: the little owl lives here. Mainly because the site is open, he likes that. He feels at home in meadow orchards and between pollarded willows. But he also lives here because Bernd Zürn from the BUND local group built breeding tunnels for him. The elongated wooden tubes imitate hollow branches, but are much more comfortable and, most importantly, rainproof. A male’s territory includes three or four tubes. Now, in December, he starts calling for a female. It takes a critical look at what the master has to offer – nice territory, good burrows, lots of mice – and then decides whether and where to breed.
Carry owls to Flörsheim
He has never found a little owl in tube 679, says Zürn, but there he is now. Zürn stands on the ladder, reaches into the tube with his arm and pulls out the somewhat frightened bird. It is small for an owl, but the little owl is still a real owl. “Athene noctua” is its Latin name, because it is the symbol of the goddess Athena, and when people talk about the owls that shouldn’t be carried to Athens, they actually mean the little owl.
But you could still carry a few owls to Flörsheim, there’s still room. There are currently seven or eight pairs in the approximately three dozen breeding tubes. Bernd Zürn is now recording exactly how many on behalf of the Lower Nature Conservation Authority. Also to clarify how the very dry summer affected breeding success.
Cars and martens are the main enemies of little owls. Martens rob caves, cars often collide with low-flying birds. The numbers in Okriftel and Flörsheim are rather meager, says Zürn, but strong growth is reported from Kriftel, at least.
The pedestrians among the birds of prey
The head with the indignant yellow eyes sticks out of the two-handed embrace at the top and the claws below. The owl from tube 679 wears a ring, that’s good. There is a number and “Helgoland Germania”, because the local ornithological station is one of three German ringing stations. Only the officially appointed ringer is allowed to ring, he gets a whole batch sent and makes the rounds in May to record the young birds. They shouldn’t be too small, but they shouldn’t be too young either. Zürn checks in advance where the eggs have been bred and then guides the ringer to the little owl offspring.