Gecko Grab

African Wood-Owl (Strix woodfordii) with Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) Turaco Wood, Nelspruit, South Africa

We have a little deck leading off our open-plan work area, and this is a great place to sit and watch birds moving through the trees in our back garden. It also provides a good vantage point to look into the adjoining nature reserve where Red Duiker often tiptoe along our fence line. On some evenings we set a table and eat out on the deck, and if we are lucky then the voices of owls and nightjars will not be obliterated by the anxious howling of the neighbour’s hounds.

Earlier this month, we were enjoying a meal on the deck when a pair of African Wood-Owls began calling in a large White Stinkwood tree. This is truly one of the most evocative sounds – a melodic duet with the male hooting ‘who, who . . . . who are you’ and the female responding with a drawn-out ‘whooooooo’ in her higher-pitched voice.

To our great delight, one of the owls landed on the lower branch of a pale-barked Lavender Tree and peered down at us. I illuminated the unexpected dinner guest with a small beam aimed just below its perch. In the meantime, the lantern on the table had lit up the wall behind us and lured a Tropical House Gecko out for a feast of moths. Silently, and this time to our astonishment, the owl launched itself from the branch, flew directly at the table, swooped over our heads, and deftly snatched the gecko off the wall. The nocturnal lizard gave out an audible screech as it was carried off into the night.

Turaco Wood, Nelspruit, South Africa, March 2012.

About Duncan Butchart

Duncan Butchart is interested in all aspects of the natural world, with a particular fascination for birds and their ecological relationships.
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4 Responses to Gecko Grab

  1. How wonderful, db, although sad for the pretty gecko. Paintings are fantastic. We hear our resident pair of Wood Owls every night, but still haven’t been lucky to get even a glimpse of them!

  2. Peter Retief says:

    Wow! I’ve never heard a gecko screech. Of course, I may have heard it often, not knowling what made the sound. Great sighting, and lovely sketches.

    • nature works says:

      Thanks for the feedback! Actually, geckos are quite vocal – these Tropical House Geckos warn off rivals by making a distinct tapping call (like two pebbles being knocked together) and they do indeed screech when in actual combat (or, when seized by a predator such as an owl!). The Tokay Gecko of south-east Asia makes an explosive ‘Tok Kay!!’ call that can be heard from a couple of hundred metres away – this is the world’s second largest gecko at 30-40cm.

  3. Sam Parsons says:

    Very special encounter!

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