Eagle Owls (Bubo bubo) are majestic, massive birds – one of the largest owl species in the world. These charismatic birds are usually found in the ravines, gullies and cliffs of the Middle East, Europe and Asia. They also live in coniferous forests and steppes. Their distinctive features and impressive wingspan make them stand out from other owls. Eurasian Eagle Owls are considered apex predators in their habitat range.
What makes the Eurasian Eagle Owl so unique? Let’s find out.
1. Eurasian Eagle Owls are truly massive among owls
Female Eagle Owls can grow to half a meter in height, weighing about five kilograms. Their wingspan can range between 1-2 meters. With talons, their feet are about the size of a human hand with fingers spread apart.
Their physical size corresponds with the size of their territory – their habitat size can range from 15 to 80 kilometers. Eagle Owls live where food is most plentiful and defend their territory fiercely from other owls. Eagle Owls often share their habitat range with Golden Eagles, but their hunting habits mean that there is only minimal overlap between the daytime preferring Golden Eagles and the nocturnal Eagle Owls. They are solitary animals that rarely overlap territories with one another, except during mating season. They prefer staying within the same territory throughout their entire lives, only moving if food is scarce or if they are driven out by other owls. They are elusive animals that prefer to roost high up in trees in the daytime, inactive until dusk falls where they awaken and hunt through the night.
2. Eurasian Eagle Owls sound and look very different from other owls too
Eagle Owls make a loud, deep, monotonous ‘ooh-huu’ or ‘uhoo’ sounding hoot. Each Eurasian Eagle Owl in a given population can be identified by their voices alone. They make different hoots and sounds to communicate the size and distance of intruders to a territory and to let other owls know they are entering certain territories. Eurasian Eagle Owls also communicate for courtship and mating purposes. They indicate annoyance with bill-clicking and spitting.
Eurasian Eagle Owls have black ear tufts and pumpkin orange eyes, while their body is covered by yellow-brown mottled feathers.
3. Eurasian Eagle Owls are monogamous and mate for life
Normally solitary birds, Eurasian Eagle Owls reunite with their partners every year during breeding season to build a nest and mate. They nest on cliffs and ledges, sometimes choosing to use the abandoned nests of large birds like hawks and eagles. Once eggs have been laid, the female spends most of her time incubating them while the male finds food and brings it to the nest to feed his mate. The routine remains until the eggs are hatched and the owlettes are grown. All owls imprint on their mothers, meaning they will imitate the first animal they see even if it is a human. This makes releasing owls from captivity difficult if they were raised by humans, as they see themselves as humans.
During courtship, the male selects breeding sites that are usually small depressions in the ground. If there is soil, the male kneads it and shows the breeding sites to the female for her to select. Eurasian Eagle Owls nest on the surface already present without adding material or building nests.
4. Eurasian Eagle Owls eat almost anything that moves
Eurasian Eagle Owls have many hunting techniques, taking prey from the ground or in the air. They prefer open spaces to forests and primarily eat mammals like voles, rabbits and mice. They also eat amphibians, insects, reptiles and fish. Eurasian Eagle Owls will even eat other birds like crows, ducks and seabirds, including other birds of prey, even other owls.
Eurasian Eagle Owls are nocturnal hunters that hunt from a perch or while flying low over the target area. Like other owls, they have evolved to fly almost silently – this means that their prey has no idea they were being stalked before they are taken by surprise, captured and eaten. Eurasian Eagle Owls have acute eyesight and excellent hearing, paired with night vision that helps with their nocturnal activities, locating prey is an easy task.
5. Eurasian Eagle Owls fly like owls, but they also fly like eagles
These owls are sedentary and prefer to stay in one territory throughout their lives. However, when they do fly, they use shallow wing beats and long glides with their strong wings to carve a direct route to their destination. They also soar up updrafts like hawks, which is rare behaviour for owls generally.
Baby owls are able to walk, and they leave the nest before they can fly. Until they can do so, they climb around the nest and are called ‘branchers’.
6. Eurasian Eagle Owls are wild, wild animals – they have not been domesticated in any way
Eurasian Eagle Owls are listed as Least Concern in the IUCN, but they face threats from hunting and poisoning. They also fall victim to electrocution and collisions with cars.
A trained ornithologist (a person who studies the discipline of science related to birds) or a zookeeper can train an Eurasian Eagle Owl to comply with certain activities that can help with their care, but the general consensus is that these large, wild birds do not make good pets. Owning an Eurasian Eagle Owl as a pet is often illegal in most places, and they need plenty of space and structured activity to maintain their health when housed in aviaries or zoos.
The Eurasian Eagle Owl ranks in the top three of owls in terms of size due to their impressive wingspan – Great Grey Owls have a longer body and Blakiston’s Fish Owls are heavier.
Eurasian Eagle Owls are closely related to the great horned owl and the snowy owl.
Owls have smaller talons than hawks when compared to their body size. Owls squeeze their prey, but hawks and eagles pierce their prey with their talons.
Eurasian Eagle Owls live about 20 years in the wild, but can live more than 60 years in captivity.