Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

Eurasian Eagle
The Raptor Foundation

While matched in weight by Snowy Owls, in wingspan by Verraux's Eagle Owls (Bubo lacteus) & length by Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua), overall, the Eurasian Eagle Owl is the world's largest owl. Despite its size, they are generally a good-natured bird, preferring to shy away from contact with people, rather than chase them away.

Eurasian Eagle Owls are found throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the Middle East & Asia, with some being found breeding as far south as the Sahara in Africa. Currently, they are not found in the wild as far East as Japan, or as far west as the British Isles. Some are found in the northern reaches of the Indian subcontinent, & until recently, the Indian Eagle Owl, living throughout the subcontinent, was considered to be a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo bengalensis), but is now regarded as a separate species (Bubo bengalensis).

The Eurasian Eagle Owl was once resident in the UK, but was hunted to extinction during the late 19th century (NOTE - the RSPB does question this view & says that the evidence is very slim.). This was done mainly by gamekeepers & farmers, concerned on them preying on their livestock. Unlike many other birds of prey, there was some justification to their fears, the owls can take large prey, but it is unlikely that they could do enough to warrant hunting them to extinction. It has also been suggested that other reasons for hunting them were for stuffing as ornaments & for the fashion trade, the long feathers being in particular demand to adorn hats. There are reports of some Eagle Owls currently living in the wild in the UK, in particular, a pair were nesting & breeding for nearly 10 years from 1997 years on MOD property on the North Yorkshire moors, they were thought to have successfully reared over 20 young. It is likely that many of the nesting birds are escaped or (illegally) released captive birds, but with records of migrations with distances as long as 400 miles it is highly likely that a proportion of the of them will be migrants from Scandinavia or other western European countries. (I have also seen one reference to a small reintroduction programme in the UK, possibly Scotland, but haven't been able to find any details).

The Eurasian Eagle Owl hunts predominantly at dusk & into the early night. They have occassionally been found sharing territories with Golden Eagles, with the eagles hunting during the day & the owls at night. They are not prepared to live peacefully with all birds of prey though, in particular goshawks. They have also been found to drive away Peregrines from near to their nesting sites. They have been reported as regularly preying on buzzards, goshawks, gyrfalcons, Tawny Owls, Long-Eared Owls & other small birds of prey, including their young. While other birds, such as ducks, pheasants, pigeons & crows, may be taken (often in flight), their main prey is mammals. They are able to catch prey spreading a large range of sizes, from mice & voles, through rabbits & hares, up to foxes, young sheep & roe deer.

They are able to hunt in woods & forests, but due to the large size, especially the wingspan, they prefer more open spaces.

Throughout their range they may be found in all types of habitat, from the cold pine forests of Northern Scandinavia, down through the cooler forests & pastures of middle Europe to the hot deserts of the Sahara. It will nest in woodland & on cliff faces. Being able to survive of such a range of habitat, being able take such a large range of prey & having few natural enemies (due to its size), it was once a highly successful bird. Unfortunately, the number in the wild are on the decline. Although common in some regions in others they are treated as endangered, suffering from the threats affecting most birds of prey. In captivity though, they are relatively easy to breed & their number (already large) is increasing. There are currently breed & release programs in several countries throughout Europe to either reintruduce the bird into areas where it has died out or to maintain a viable healthy population where the numbers are declining.

Breeding takes place from February through to July. The female usually lays 1 or 2 eggs, very rarely as many as 4, the number may be dependant on the available food supply. The female incubates the eggs on her own (taking 32-35 days), while the male brings her food, this continues for the first four or five weeks after hatching, when the female will help to catch food for the young. It is not uncommon for 1 of the young to die while still in the nest & this will be eaten by any remaining young. They are able to fly at around seven to eight weeks after hatching, but are dependant on their parents for some time after. It is usually late autumn by the time they are fully independant. There is often a high mortality rate during the first winter, but if they survive that first winter, in the wild, they may live up to 20 years on average. The record age in the wild from a European ringing study is 26years & 7 months (in Finland). In captivity they will usually live between 45-60 years, the record in captivity is believed to be over 80 years.

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

Also Called :

English European Eagle Owl
Cailleach-oidhche-mhòr (Great Owl or lit. Great Old Wife/Crone Of The Night ??)
Comhachag-mhòr (Great Owl)
Catalan Duc
Danish Storhornugle
Dutch Oehoe
Esperanto gufo
Estonian Kassikakk
Finnish Huuhkaja
Hibou Grand-Duc d'Europe (European Grand Duke Owl)
Grand-duc d'Europe
Hibou Grand-Duc (Grand Duke Owl)
German Uhu
Hungarian Uhu
Icelandic Úfur
Italian Gufo reale (Royal Owl)
Lappish (Sami) Bumbbástat
Didysis Apuokas
Norwegian Hubro
Polish Puchacz
Portuguese Bufo-real
Russian Филин (Filin)
Spanish Búho real (Royal Owl)
Swedish Berguv
jiao chi (Horned Owl)
lao tu (Old Rabbit)
jiu tu niao (Eagle Rabbit Bird)
hen hu (Fox Hater)
Japanese washi mimizuko (Eagle Horned Owl)

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