Extinct No More: Philippine Hawk Owls Found in Cebu Province


Environmental news stories are often negative, as species after species slips into extinction. It's easy to see humans as being oblivious to the consequences of scouring the planet clean without any regard for the life living in it.
Occasionally, however, some good news crops up, and animals thought lost to history reappear. Such encouraging events are rare, giving us all the more reason to celebrate when they occur.
Like it has in other parts of the world, deforestation in the Philippines' CebuProvince has devastated the local bird populations, and for years the island's little hawk owls were thought to be extinct.
In 1998, however, researchers found evidence that the owls were clinging to existence in forested areas around Alcoy, a small town in the south of Cebu. The owls were officially announced to the world in August of 2012.
From One, Many
Like diamonds found by street sweepers, the rediscovery of the Cebu hawk owl grew out of a larger study of the Philippine owl population. Researchers examining the birds' coloration, size and unique vocal calls realized that instead of comprising one species, as was originally believed, the Philippines' hawk owl population includes seven distinct species and one subspecies.
Owl calls played an important role in the researchers' discovery. Many birds learn their calls by listening to other members of their species. Parrot calls, for instance, have distinct dialects based on where the bird was raised. In contrast, hawk owl calls are genetically encoded, so all members of the same species sound the same.
Cebu Hawk Owl Behavior
In addition to the Cebu hawk owl, Cebu province has two other bird species that are endemic (found nowhere else on the planet). The little hawk owl joins the Cebu flowerpecker and Cebu black shama as part of the province's small but endemic bird population.
Like other species of hawk owls, the Cebu hawk owls prey on rats, snakes and insects, and help control local vermin populations. The owls themselves are secretive and difficult to spot; traits that helped conceal their location for years. On average, an adult hawk owl measures 8-12 inches in length.
A pair of Cebu owls covers a territory of 10-20 hectares, and they appear to favor natural forest cover over exotic tree growth and plantations. Researchers don't have accurate estimates of owl numbers, but suspect that deforestation has left the Cebu hawk owl critically endangered. Understanding the little raptor's preference for natural forest may encourage reforestation projects that favor indigenous plants.
At present, it's debatable whether or not the Cebu hawk owl will survive. Only time and the efforts of Cebu's conservationists will determine the owl's fate. Habitat loss may be too severe to support a viable population. With their unexpected reappearance, however, the little Philippine hawk owls remind us that nature, while fragile, can also be resilient.
Byline: Michelle is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publically voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience.
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