Filming Devil Bird

Back in 2014, I came up with the idea of doing a documentary about owls in Sri Lanka. With my trusty team (including cameramen Dhanusha Bandara and Saman Hewage) we spent nearly a year jetting around the country filming owls. Most of them were hard to film – owls are nocturnal, and it takes a lot of effort to find them during the day amid thick jungle when they are roosting. Nonetheless, we managed to film most of them (there are around 11 species in Sri Lanka; watch our video for more info), including the ‘Devil Bird’…

Out of them all, filming one particular owl left an indelible mark on my mind: the Forest Eagle Owl. Not only is it THE hardest owl to film, let alone photograph, but it also has an eerie call. This call is dreadful when heard at night, causing villagers to dub it as the ‘devil bird’. Some believe it’s the reincarnated spirit of a vengeful woman and its call is an omen of death (find out more about this myth in our video).

Video film crew in Sri Lanka.
My team (from left to right): Saman Hewage, myself and Dhanusha Bandara

CUT TO: Sigiriya forest, 2014. Dead of night. Me, Dhanusha, Saman, my father and Lester Perera (a prominent ornithologist in the country) were at Sigiriya, a rural location in Sri Lanka, searching for the ‘Devil Bird’. I was desperate to film it, what with all the notoriety behind this elusive creature. But the first night was unsuccessful, and we went back home disappointed.

However, on the second night, after searching for hours, Saman pointed out something on a branch nearby – ‘what’s that?’ he said. Lester flashed the light in his hand… lo and behold! It was the Forest Eagle Owl in the flesh! For the next fifteen minutes, Dhanusha filmed the bird successfully as Saman and Lester kept tracking it as it flitted from tree to tree. Finally, the bird flew off into the night, but by then we had filmed it successfully.

Forest Eagle Owl in Sri Lanka.
The super-elusive ‘Forest Eagle Owl’ (The ‘Devil Bird’)

With the resulting rare footage, I made two short documentaries (which can be seen in the ‘filmmaking’ page) that went viral. And it was the very first documentary made about the ‘Devil Bird’ of Sri Lanka. The footage was also featured on Discovery Channel’s ‘Daily Planet’ series, where they did a segment about mythical creatures.