Scientists in UAE hear call from rare Omani Owl

The elusive bird was disovered on March 8 during an owl survey conducted by the Emirates Wildlife Society in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund.

The Omani owl responded to the call played by the research team of the Emirates Wildlife Society, confirming its presence in the Emirates. Courtesy Arnoud B van den Berg
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Equipped with speakers playing recorded owl calls throughout the mountains of Wadi Wurayah, a team of scientists was surprised to hear a response from an owl thought to exist only in Oman.
The elusive Omani owl, or Strix omanensis, was discovered in the UAE on March 8, during an owl survey conducted by the Emirates Wildlife Society in co-operation with the World Wildlife Fund.
Two years after its discovery in Oman, the owl responded to the researchers' recording with an hour-long singing session.
"We are delighted with the discovery that a species as unique as the Omani owl has been recently seen in Wadi Wurayah National Park," said Ida Tillisch, director of the wildlife society.
The presence of the Strix owl in the UAE had been suspected for several years, but not confirmed.
Dr Christophe Tourenq, a UAE-based nature conservationist, said he briefly heard owl song in 2006 in Wadi Wurayah, and attributed it to the Hume's Tawny owl. It is known on the western side of the Arabian Peninsula, but his sighting was isolated.
Unconfirmed Strix-like calls have been reported on a few occasions in the Northern Emirates.
The bird's shy nature makes its whereabouts, and conservation status, hard to ascertain. Not enough data has been collected.
"It is an important milestone for us, as it highlights how valuable the ongoing work of the Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF research team is in the area," Ms Tillisch said. "The conservation efforts being carried out on site continue to ensure the area remains a stronghold for wildlife in the UAE."
The team that the observed the call included Elvin Miller, Patricia Cabrera and Jacky Judas. The taxonomy and nomenclature of this species are debated; its ecology virtually unknown, and its status so far considered as "data deficient" by Birdlife International.
"This latest exciting discovery re-emphasises the importance of the conservation work that has been taking place in Wadi Wurayah," said Mohammed Al Afkham of Fujairah Municipality. "The sighting of the Omani owl demonstrates the significance of the project and uniqueness of the wadi as an exceptional site for wildlife,"
The sighting raises hope that the species may extend across the Hajar Mountains from Muscat to Musandam.
Conservation efforts continue to ensure the area remains a stronghold for wildlife in the UAE, according to EWS-WWF.