Long-eared Owl
Thursday, 06 December 2012 19:26




Barn Owl
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 16:27



In 2011 we acquired a 4-week old American Barn Owl. After watching her grow and develop over several months, we dicided to call her 'Pepper' from the black spots she has all over her belly. A young Barn Owl is not an attractive creature to most people, resembling a small dinosaur rather than a bird! Once the feathers start to grow however, it is transformed into one of the most stunning and instantly recognisable birds in the World.


Appearance: American Barn Owls are slightly larger and more powerful than our native Barn Owl, with noticeably larger and more powerful legs and feet. The underparts are never snowy-while as in our male native Barn Owl, instead the belly is white peppered with black spots and the chest is a buff-orange colour with some black spotting. The upperparts are a vivid orange with grey speckling. The face is distinctly heart-shaped, as it is in all Barn Owls, and is snowy white. The eyes are dark brown. The long beak is hidden beneath a layer of stiff, thick feathers and appears quite short at a glance. The long legs and toes are bare so they dry more quickly after hunting in long grass. Males are a little paler in colour, as well as being smaller and lighter in weight, than females.


Voice: the legend of the Banshee originates with this owl as its eerie screeching calls through the night can cause your heart to skip a beat! This is not an owl that produces a nice hooting sound!


Distribution: the Barn Owl shares a unique title with the Peregrine falcon - both are the most widespread birds in the World, being found on every Continent and even on many islands. There are, for example, Barn Owls represented in Europe, The Canary Islands, Africa, Madagascar, India, Australia, North America, Central America, South America, Cuba and south-east Asia. To date over 30 forms of Barn Owl have been described! It is only absent from warm and cold desert climates such as the Canadian Arctic, most of Russia and the Sahara Desert, and from dense forest such as the Amazon.


Habitat: Barn Owls prefer open countryside such as meadows, grassland and prairies, and are often found close to human settlements, where they will use quiet outbuildings and attics for nesting and roosting. In wilderness areas it will roost and nest in the hollows of large trees and, more rarely, in rocky cliffs.


Habits: usually very shy by day and well hidden from view. Active from dusk, at intervals through the night, until dawn. In winter when food can be very hard to find Barn Owls can be forced to hunt by day in search of small birds and small mammals such as shrews. Will hunt from a perch but also often on the wing, when it flaps and glides over suitable open countryside in a flight style called 'quartering' - it will routinely search field margins, ditches and other rough areas for prey.


Diet: small mammals make up the bulk of the diet, but some birds are also eaten as well as lizards, frogs, large insects and even bats - some Barn Owls are known to specialise in feeding on bats where they are abundant.


Population: Barn Owls are found in good numbers in some areas, but where people have drastically altered farming practices intensively the Barn Owl has suffered badly; removal of old barns and outbuildings, use of crop pesticides, poisoning of rodents and ever-increasing numbers of roads are all factors reducing Barn Owl numbers wherever they occur. In Ireland the Barn Owl is much rarer than it once was.


Beautiful though it may be, the Barn Owl is likely responsible for most old ghost stories in the UK and Ireland - local names included Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Screech Owl and Old Hushwing. Imagine walking home late at night, especially past a church yard (where Barn Owls would often roost and nest) and seeing a white object floating silently past you - if you didn't know any better you would swear you'd seen a ghost! Similarly imagine hearing loud screeching sounds late at night, resembling someone being murdered - and you can see why this owl aroused the fear of ghosts and demons in people.








Asian Brown Wood Owl
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 15:35



Sometimes the name of an owl is a perfect description of the animal itself - this one is brown, found in the woods in its native habitat, and is an owl - hey presto! We had quite a drive to acquire Dudley in 2012 - the breadth of the UK - from Belfast to Ipswich! He was worth every mile of the journey and when we arrived to collect him we learned that he was the only Wood Owl to hatch successfully from that clutch of eggs - so we are very privileged to have him with us. Dudley was the first Brown Wood Owl to make it to Ireland - why it took so long for this species to get here is a puzzle as they are beautiful owls with a quirky character.


Appearance: beginning life as a ball of light brown fluff, they soon transform into beautiful mahogany brown birds with a rust-coloured face and finely barred underparts. The dark brown eyes are large for an owl of its size. The beak and feet are large and powerful. Males are around 40cm tall with a wingspan of around 80cm; females are larger and more powerful.


Voice: a typical owl in appearance as well as voice - this is an owl that hoots! The male's call during the breeding season is a series of short hoots, with the last hoot being drawn out a little longer than the others.


Distribution: southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Thailand and Malaysia and some islands in northern Indonesia including Sumatra and Borneo. With access to food throughout the year this owl doesn't migrate.


Habitat: found only in dense tropical forest in lowland areas throughout its range; in mountain forests it is replaced by two very similar species - the Himalayan Wood Owl (in south-east Asia) and Bartel's Wood Owl (on the island of Java).


Habits: strictly nocturnal, flying from perch to perch to locate suitable prey on the forest floor. By day it rests quietly against the trunk of a tree, often quite high up, where it gains good protection from most predators. If disturbed it will stretch upright, squeeze its feathers down and half-close its eyes, when it then closely resembles a broken tree branch.


Diet: mainly small mammals such as mice, rats and shrews; also occasionally small birds, lizards and snakes. The thick feathers help to protect against bites from snakes.


Population: very difficult to find in the wild and so no-one is really sure how many there are or how common it might be over its range. Owls can be very difficult to survey!

5 weeks old                                                 9 weeks old                                                      12 weeks old


7.5 months old


Spectacled Owl
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 13:29

Spectacled Owl


In 2012 we acquired Ralph, a 3-week old Spectacled Owl, from a good friend and owl breeder in the UK. He was the first of his species to be brought into Ireland - quite why he was the first is unclear as they are stunning birds! We were very lucky to acquire him as many owls and birds of prey seem to have taken a year off from breeding in 2012! Also Spectacled Owls typically only have 1-2 young and even then do not breed every year. We count ourselves very lucky to have added Ralph to the team. Spectacled Owls are known to be quite playful when raised correctly and Ralph loves to watch TV, loves getting his head scratched, and likes to grab and nibble things - especially things that look like food!


Appearance: Spectacled Owls have a very distinctive facial pattern. Young owlets have a white head with a black mask around the beak and eyes; as they get older the white is replaced with a dark chocolate brown, and adults have a dark brown head, black mask and thin white rings around each eye - these resemble spectacles and give the owl its common name. The back and chest are dark brown, the belly a yellow-buff. The beak and feet are strong and powerful, the tell-tale sign of a fearsome predator! The eyes are yellow or orange-yellow.Males are around 45cm tall with a wingspan of around 80cm; females are larger and more powerful.


Voice: instead of producing a hooting sound, a knocking sound is made during the breeding season - rather like someone knocking on a large piece of wood several times. Females have higher-pitched calls than the males.


Distribution: found throughout Central and South America in suitable habitat, also on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad.


Habitat: preferred habitat is old, dense rainforest with large trees. Where this has been removed by people Spectacled Owls can live in plantations of e.g. bananas trees. Also found in mountain forests in areas such as Costa Rica.


Habits: Spectacled Owls are active from dusk, at intermittent periods throughout the night, until dawn. During this time they hunt by flying from perch to perch, watching the ground below for suitable prey. By day they rest in thick cover, high in the trees, where they are safe from most predators and difficult to locate. They prefer to call on quiet, moonlit nights as their voice travels farther under these conditions.


Diet: mainly small mammals up to the size of an opossum; also occasionally birds (up to the size of a crow), large insects, and where they are locally abundant, more unusual food items such as crabs, crawfish and tarantulas.


Population: throughout its range the Spectacled Owl is regarded as being uncommon, although in areas such as parts of Costa Rica and the Amazon it is regarded as locally common. As areas of rainforest continue to be destroyed, so the numbers of Spectacled Owls will decrease - saving vast areas of the rainforest will also save this large and beautiful owl.


Much is still to be learned about the Spectacled Owl. The animal we know as the 'Spectacled Owl' is actually several look-a-like species, and as research continues we will find out exactly what these species are, where they live and how they differ from each other. We also know very little of their breeding behaviour.


3 weeks old                                      9 weeks old                        11 weeks old


7 months old




Where our animals come from
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 13:25


At Mantella we keep a wide variety of animals and each is carefully chosen to demonstrate particular features that allow survival in their natural environment. We only select animals that have been bred in captivity and raised correctly so they display calm, relaxed behaviour around people. We prefer to raise the animals ourselves to be guaranteed they will display the right temperament for use in our education work. A captive bred animal which has been raised correctly is very well adjusted and calm in the talks and displays we provide*.

The welfare of animals in our care is paramount. As such we do not use:

  • animals that have been taken directly from wild populations. Such animals are often very nervous and will rarely adjust well to life in captivity. The majority of animals kept by people nowadays have been bred in captivity for many generations, and so collection from the wild serves little purpose now other than financial gain for importers. Wild caught animals often bring with them parasites and diseases whereas captive bred animals are free of such problems. Conservation of wild animal populations is important to our work at Mantella and so we only use and advocate the keeping of captive bred animals.
  • any rescued, injured or rehabilitated animals. We have over the years occasioanlly been involved with rescuing and rehabilitating both wild and exotic animals. Our belief is that these animals have often suffered enough stress already and are best kept in calm, quiet and secluded conditions where stress is kept to a minimum and they can live the rest of their lives in peace.

*Occasionally an animal in our care can react to unexpected events such as loud noises. In such instances the animal is returned to its safe, secure, dark travelling quarters where it can have some time out.



An integral part of our talks and displays involves hands-on interaction with many of our animals, and during handling sessions we explain the correct handling techniques for each animal.

We also explain which handling methods to avoid - it is amazing how many 'seasoned' animal keepers repeatedly handle their animals in ways which do not safeguard the welfare of themselves or their animals. This does a great disservice to responsible animal keepers.

Certain animals benefit from human interaction in different ways - for example Digger our Burrowing Owl loves to use your head or hand as a lookout perch; Ralph our Spectacled Owl loves to have his head feathers preened; and many reptiles will enjoy the climbing exercise and sit quietly on your arm or hand to absorb heat from your skin. Many animals find us as interesting as we find them!

People also benefit from interacting with animals too - it is well documented that regular interaction with tame and well adjusted animals can alleviate the effects of stress and anxiety. For many people with sensory impairment, the chance to experience how different animals feel is a very special experience - and not everyone prefers the cute and cuddly animals!

We take the health and well-being of our animals and our clients seriously, and as such operate a strict hygiene protocol in accordance with current best practice guidelines and under the expert advice of our veterinarian.

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