- The last confirmed case of Shelley’s eagle-owl was in the 1870s.
- It is distinguished by its large size, black eyes, yellow beak and barred patterning.
- Only one other definitive photograph of an owl exists – one taken in captivity in 1975.
- Biologists Joseph Tobias and Robert Williams take a bite in the Ateva forest
- The pair said their ‘jaws dropped’ after seeing the elusive owl on 16 October
A giant owl that hasn’t been seen in the wild in 150 years has finally been spotted in a Ghanaian rainforest – raising hopes for the vulnerable species to survive.
Shelley’s eagle-owl was sighted on 16 October by Imperial College London biologist Joseph Tobias and freelance ecologist Robert Williams in the Atewa forest.
Last seen definitively in Ghana in the 1870s – the same year it was first described – the nocturnal owl has become the ‘Holy Grail’ for bird watchers in Africa.
While there have been several alleged sightings over the past few decades in Central and West Africa and as far away as Angola and Liberia, not all have been confirmed.
Shelley’s eagle-owl is said to make a distinctive ‘cow’ sound, which is louder than the sound of similar owls.
The only known few photographs of the bird are grainy images of a captive specimen kept behind bars at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium in 1975.
Meanwhile, some have claimed that a 2005 photo taken in Congo shows a more recent specimen – but the image is said to be too pixelated, to be sure.
Given its scarcity – with an estimated population of only a few thousand individuals – the Shelley’s eagle owl is considered vulnerable to extinction.
A giant owl that hasn’t been seen in the wild in 150 years has been spotted in a rainforest in Ghana – raising hopes of a vulnerable species’ survival. Pictured: Shelley’s eagle-owl
formal name: boobo shelly
Area: Central and West Africa
Body Size: 21-24 inches
Wing Cord (Length): 16.5–19.4 inches
Weight: over 2.7 lbs
The researchers – who are in Ghana studying the biological effects of agricultural development in Africa as part of a UK government-funded project – spotted an owl when they accidentally disturbed the bird by its time of day.
Dr. Tobias said, ‘It was so big, at first we thought it was a hawk.’
‘Luckily it sat on a lower branch and when we raised our binoculars our jaws dropped. There is no other owl so big in the rainforests of Africa.’
While the owl only stood for 10–15 seconds before flying, the pair were able to take photographs to confirm the species.
They can be sure that the bird was indeed Shelley’s eagle-owl, thanks to its distinctive combination of black eyes, yellow bill, large size and barred pattern.
“This is a sensational discovery,” said Nathaniel Enorba, a biodiversity expert at Ghana’s University of Environment and Sustainable Development.
‘We have been searching for this mysterious bird in the western lowlands for years, so it is a huge surprise to find it here in the ridgetop forests of the eastern region.’
Shelley’s eagle-owl was first described in 1872 by the famous British ornithologist Richard Bodler Sharpe – curator of the Natural History Museum in London’s bird collection, after receiving a specimen from a local hunter in Ghana.
Shelley’s eagle-owl was first described in 1872 by the famous British ornithologist Richard Bodler Sharpe – curator of the Natural History Museum in London’s bird collection, after receiving a specimen from a hunter in Ghana. Image: an illustration of an owl from 1875
Environmental groups, including the ‘Friends of Ateva’, have called for the forest to be designated a national park, to ensure its protection.
Atewa is threatened by both illegal logging and mining for bauxite – used in the production of aluminum – although the high altitude areas still support large areas of evergreen forest.
“We hope this view will draw attention to the Atewa Forest and its importance to the conservation of local biodiversity,” said Dr Williams.
“Hopefully, the discovery of such a rare and spectacular owl will spur these efforts to save one of the last wild wildcats in Ghana,” he concluded.
Shelley’s eagle-owl was photographed in Ghana’s Atewa Forest by biologist Joseph Tobias of Imperial College London and freelance ecologist Robert Williams.
RSPB recommends not helping budding chicks ‘unless they are in immediate danger’
Although the RSPB recommended not interfering with children, the charity said there are circumstances when Britons should come to the aid of the birds.
If the bird is on a busy road or driveway, the RSPB recommends picking up the bird and moving it a short distance to a safe location such as a dense bush.
It should be within hearing distance from where it was found. UK birds have a poor sense of smell and will not leave their young if touched.
If a cat or dog is seen keeping an eye on a fledgling, you are advised to keep your domestic pet indoors for a few days – or at least around dawn and dusk.
Those who find injured fledglings should report it to RSPB. He can be contacted on 0300 1234 999.
Swift found on the ground needs help
If a chick is found on the ground without feathers or covered in fluff, it is a bird that has fallen from its nest before it is ready.
These young can sometimes be placed back in their nests, but the RSPB says you should only attempt this if you are 100% sure you have found a home and it is safe to do so.
It is also important to remember that sometimes adult birds throw their chicks out if they realize an underlying health problem, or if it is dying.
If you find a fallen speedster it should be put in a shoe box and put away…