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Boreal owls appear for the first time on Yaomo Mountain in Urumqi, NW China’s Xinjiang

“According to our observations for two consecutive months, we can confirm that there are two boreal owls on Yaomo Mountain!” On the morning of February 15, Zhao Chunhui, a bird watching enthusiast, told reporters happily that he had photographed boreal owls twice on January 4 and 31 respectively, and he was ready to go to the Yaomo Mountain to “take a chance” on that day.

“The first time someone photographed the boreal owl on Yaomo Mountain was on December 18 in 2022, and then the bird watching team in Urumqi City began to flock to Yaomo Mountain to search the birds. It was not until December 21 that someone photographed the boreal owl for the second time.” Zhao Chunhui said.

Zhao Chunhui said that he joined the bird-searching team immediately, and went to Yaomo Mountain four times but in vain. On January 4, the boreal owl was found at the fifth time when climbing the mountain. Later, he went there a few more times, but never saw one. On January 31, the boreal owl was photographed for the second time.

It is understood that the boreal owl, also known as the little owl, is a national second-class protected animal, and is also a rare bird in China. There are at least 3 subspecies of boreal owl in China, and 2 subspecies in Xinjiang. This time, the boreal owl found on Yaomo Mountain belongs to the Tianshan subspecies.

Boreal owl mainly lives in coniferous forests and coniferous and broad-leaved mixed forests, especially in the mixed forests dominated by pine, birch, and poplar trees. It is nocturnal and it hides in dense forests rarely frequented by people in the daytime, and often lives in the place with dense branches and leaves in the canopy or in the tree hole.

“The boreal owl was photographed twice. One was near the exit of Yaomo Mountain, and the other was near the ravine.” Jiang Kewei, a volunteer from the China Animal Protection Association, said that this kind of smart owl is difficult to be photographed. They are more active at night and like to go alone, and mainly feed on rats. They like to hide in trees with dense branches during the day, and also come out to hunt in the morning and evening.

It is understood that the boreal owl got its name because its variable calls. It utters a “toot” sound like a flute at night, repeating every few seconds and constantly changing, so it gives people a feeling of terror.

“Although the name is terrifying, it is really cute.” Jiang Kewei said, this little guy who is only slightly bigger than a mobile phone and has a disproportionately big head, with star-like white spots dotted on the top of the head and big yellow eyes, looks very lovely.

“It's also very interesting that they like to live on trees. There are many artificially grafted elms on Yaomo Mountain. The trunk of the artificially grafted elm is straight, while the branches are in the shape of an umbrella. The branches hanging from the top make a perfect barrier for them to resist the enemy, so they like it very much,” Jiang Kewei said.

“This is the first record of the boreal owls observed in the urban area of Urumqi City, which is very rare.” Ma Ming, a bird researcher at the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said it proves that this kind of birds has begun to move from the western Tianshan Mountains to the central Tianshan Mountains for procreation.

According to Ma Ming, with the continuous improvement of the natural environment in Urumqi City, the forest vegetation has been restored, the species resources on the mountain are rich, and the number of rats and insects that can be fed on by wild birds is also increasing. Food is sufficient, and the ecosystem is perfect, so more and more birds come to live here. (Reporter: Xiang Yaqi)

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