This past weekend I had one the most amazing birding experiences in my life. We visited the town of Kikinda, located in the northern plains of Serbia near the border with Romania. The town square is populated by hundreds of long-eared owls during the winter as they communally roost and breed during this time. It is like a big love fest!
As I wrote above, there are hundreds of owls in the trees in the central park of the city. This is the biggest communal roosting site in the world. The conditions around Kikinda are a paradise for the owl. The inefficient agriculture of Serbia, as opposed to the industrial farming techniques of North America and Western Europe, leave enough grains in the fields after harvesting to support a huge population of voles. Voles are a rodent that is the favorite food of the owl. They are prolific breeders and in a couple of generations, there are millions of them. Also, the small patches of forest combined with open fields, are the ideal habitat for the long-eared owl.
My friend, Dr. Milan Ružić, is working to conserve and promote this awesome roosting site. He showed us the owl exhibition site in the town’s museum and taught us about the natural history of the owl. Absolutely amazing experience. An owl sighting is quite rare, but here in Kikinda, there were so many owls. There were also thousands of owl pellets, which are great to dig through to see what they are eating. 85% of their diet are voles.
I highly recommend visiting Kikinda in the winter. There have been up to 500 owls in the square and a record 165 in own big conifer near the church.
Finally, there were two things I learned about owls from Milan. First, is they have the softest feathers of any bird, and second, they are so smart that they can only get mist-netted once. They learn to identify the nets, and unlike other birds, learn to avoid them in the future.
In Serbian it is known as the Utina.