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Eurasian Eagle-Owls: Information, Pictures and Conservation

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The Eurasian is characterized by a heavily speckled head and crown, prominent ear tufts and distinctive orange eyes,

The Eurasian is characterized by a heavily speckled head and crown, prominent ear tufts and distinctive orange eyes,

Eurasian or European Eagle-Owl

The Eurasian eagle-owl, or European eagle-owl as it is more commonly known, is one of the largest of owl species. Incorrectly, the eagle-owl is frequently described as the largest of owls; however, in terms of length, that particular honor belongs to the Great Grey, and the Blackiston's fish owl is arguably heavier.

Nevertheless, the Eurasian is, quite frankly, a powerful and imposing creature reaching up to 30 inches in length at maturity, having a wingspan of up to 70 inches and females, who are on average a third heavier than their male counterparts, can weigh anything up to 9.3 lbs.

To put this into some perspective, the species is almost four times larger and eight times heavier than a barn owl. This bird is no featherweight, if you'll pardon the pun.

There are no fewer than 13 subspecies of the Eurasian, which is a member of the Strigidae (true owl) family.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Description

There are some notable differences in appearance when it comes to the subspecies; however, the one thing they all have in common is the most distinctive eye coloring which ranges from a vivid amber /orange to orange/ yellow, and prominent ear tufts.

The Bubo bubo (nominate race) has a heavily speckled crown and head of buff brown with black streaking across the sides and back of the neck and nape. Typically the throat and chin are white with a black to greyish facial disk, depending on the region and the sub species. The beak is black and fine brown barring can be found on the owls' underbelly.

The toes are extremely long, powerful and feathered and as is the case with all owls the Eurasian is zygodactile, meaning that the fourth digit on each foot can be reversed, and will therefore, point either backwards or forwards as required. Talons are not only black, but longer than a leopards claw.

Unlike other birds, owls' eyes are set forward, which greatly enhances depth perception, but doesn't allow the owl to rotate its eyes in order to change view. But just like other birds the Eurasian needs a wide visual range in order to detect predators and prey. For this reason, owls including the Eurasian have particularly flexible necks, which means they can literally rotate their heads 270 degrees either way.

And it's no coincidence that this species has vivid eye coloring, in fact, the various shades of eye color tells us quite a lot about their hunting preferences and behaviour. The subspecies with yellow eyes will hunt mainly during the day, whilst the Eurasians with vivid orange eyes can hunt both during the day and at night. Although nearsighted, every subspecies of the Eurasian has excellent day vision.

Behavior, Flight and Hunting

Largely nocturnal, the species tends to be most active at dawn and dusk, and hunting will mainly occur from and an open perch or whilst the bird is in flight.

Due to its size and hunting prowess, the Eurasian is at the top of the avian food chain, feeding on small mammals such as rabbits to juvenile deer, birds as large as buzzards, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and in some cases, domestic cats and dogs. Because the owl has no sense of smell, it has even been known to capture and feed on skunks.

This bird does not tear the meat from the bodies of its prey, but ingests the complete caucus. Later, the bird will regurgitate a single pellet which consists of bone, feathers, fur and any other matter which the owl cannot digest.

A Eurasian swoops for the kill.

A Eurasian swoops for the kill.

Eurasian Eagle Owl Slow Motion

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Flight is almost completely silent, and as with all owls, the Eurasian has evolved feathers which buffer the air, as opposed to cutting through through the air like a falcon or an eagle. And of course, just as with other owls, their hearing and vision are exceptional, enabling them to detect prey from some distance.

In comparison to birds of prey such as the falcon or hawk however, the Eurasian lacks the necessary speed required to successfully hunt during the day when accompanied by a handler, which is why falconers will rarely fly the bird for hunting purposes; the owls are greatly hindered by their noisy human partners.

The Eurasian hunts by stealth, precision and highly advanced senses, not speed.

When unaccompanied, and when the bird's intended prey comes to realise the inevitable danger, it's far too late. Nature's silent assassin has struck.

The Eurasian will either crush its prey with their large powerful talons, believed to an exert a pressure of more than 750lbs per square inch, or use its powerful beak to bite the victim's head.

One could be excused for believing that the large ear tufts would help amplify the birds hearing, when in reality the tufts have no hearing function whatsoever. In the owls' natural habitat, they're used for camouflage and communication.

When the feathers on the tufts are erect, it is widely believed that the bird is making itself visible to other owls, therefore assisting family members to identify the bird when it is situated in dense woodland. When erect, the tufts also exaggerate its size, making the Eurasian appear more formidable when faced with predators or other perceived threats.

During sleep the tufts are lowered which alters the shape of the head; this assists the Eurasian to take up the shape and contours of the bark on nearby trees.

When able to sleep on a flat surface, they will stand on their elbows, resting and curling their toes.

The Eurasian's facial expression and posture will often indicate its mood. For example, when the feathers above the beak are pulled forward and the ear tufts are raised (imagine the equivalent of a frown), the bird is showing signs of irritation.

When they feel threatened however, they will puff out their feathers, lifting their wings upwards above their head while also hissing.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Call

Eagle-owls are solitary creatures, fiercely protecting their territory from predators, yet they respect the territory of other owls and will only the overlap the boundaries when food is in short supply.

Whenever possible, the bird prefers to remain in the same territory, only moving when they either forced out or the food supply becomes sparse.

The Eurasian is a particularly vocal creature, using a range of clucks and hoots which represent different moods. They will use specific vocals when entering or leaving territories, or to attract a mate.

A territorial call consists of a deep "oohu-oohu-oohu", which is repeated approximately every 10 seconds. The female's call is noticeably higher pitched. When threatened, the bird may emit a " ka ka kau" while grunting and hissing.

Courtship and Reproduction

Eurasian eagle-owls will use a low frequency guttural hoot to attract a potential mate, and both the male and female of the species will reach sexual reproductive maturity between the ages of one and three years.

The breeding season only occurs once a year and pairs will normally form during early fall. Once a mate has been selected, the partnership is lifelong, although not necessarily monogamous. The newly formed couple will then begin nesting in the latter part of January and early part of February.

It is quite common for the owls to occupy the abandoned nests of other large birds, and prefer rock crevices, caves, and sheltered cliff ledges in which to do so.

The breeding season lasts from December to April and the rate of breeding will increase or decrease in direct correlation to the availability of food. In light of this, the female can lay anything between one and four white eggs, depending on the quality of their environment.

Eggs are incubated by the mother for approximately 30 to 36 days, whilst her partner will protect from predators and supply food. The newly hatched infants are covered with a buff coloured down.

As with many other birds, owlets are imprinted by the first creature they see, known as genetic imprinting. When hatched in captivity without owls for parents, the owlets will intimate a human; in other words, they will believe that they are human. After hatching, the male will continue to provide his mate with food for up to two weeks, whilst the female protects the young from any threats.

At approximately three weeks of age, the owlets are able to feed independently, and at around five weeks of age, the chicks are able to walk around the nesting area. By approximately the eighth week, the chicks will learn to fly, but only for short distances.

Around September to November, the young owls will leave the nest. The lifespan of the Eurasian eagle-owl varies considerably. depending upon whether it is kept in captivity or in the wild. In its natural habitat, life expectancy is around 20 years, in stark contrast to captive owls who can live for up to 60 years.

Risk of predation is very low for adult Eurasians, who have no natural enemies.

Eurasian eagle-owl, Poland

Eurasian eagle-owl, Poland

Habitat, Range and Subspecies

The Eurasian is a hardy creature, and occupies a diverse range of habitats and extreme temperatures—from deserts to riverbeds, from mountain ranges to flat, open grasslands. Nevertheless, they prefer wooded areas and rocky landscapes, but can adapt exceedingly well.

The European eagle-owl can be found across Europe to Russia and the Pacific, through Pakistan across to Korea and China and across Iran.

The size of subspecies decreases north to south and east to west of the range. Similarly, the owl's coloring becomes paler as we move from north to south in the Middle East and Asia Minor, and also as we move eastwards in the northern parts of the range to western Siberia.

In contrast, the birds plumage becomes progressively darker as we move towards the Pacific.

Distribution of the Eurasian eagle-owl

Distribution of the Eurasian eagle-owl

Subspecies by Range

B.b.bubu: Central and northern Europe

B.b hispanus: Iberian Peninsula

B.b. ruthenus: Russia from the east of Moscow to Urals

B.b interpoistus: From the Ukraine and then south to Syria

B.b. Sibericu: Western Siberia from the Urals to the River Ob

B.b.yenisseensis: Central Siberia from the River Ob to Lake Baikal

B.b.jakutensis: From Lake Baikal, Northeaster Siberia to the Pacific

B.b.ussuriensis: From Southeastern Siberia through to Northern China

B.b.turcomanus: From the region of Volga through to Kazachstan and western Mongolia

B.b.omissus- Found in Turkey.

B.b.nikolskii- Found in Southern and central Iran through to Pakistan.

B.b.hemachalana- Can be found in Tien Shan, Tibet, the Himalayas and Pamirs.

B.b.kiautschensis- Found in Korea and China.

B.b.swinhoei- Can be found in Southeastern China.

Britain's Hen Harrier population is thought to be threatened by the presence of the Eurasian Eagle Owl.

Britain's Hen Harrier population is thought to be threatened by the presence of the Eurasian Eagle Owl.

Eagle-Owls in Britain

During the last century, the Eurasian was very much in decline, due to human persecution, road traffic accidents, power lines, barbed wire, toxic mercury seed dressings and pesticide use. Myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease have significantly reduced rabbit populations in some regions, which has also had detrimental effects on the Eurasian population.

However in Europe, the owl has made some recovery in terms of population, due in part to improved and increased protection under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, and the EC Birds Directive.

Increased food supply, growing populations of rats and rodents due to tip proliferation and widespread restocking programs are also, in part, responsible for the Eurasian's recovery. As such, the owl's survival is not considered to be threatened. Nevertheless, the population still remains below former levels.

Until recently, it was believed that the eagle-owl was all but absent from the UK, and had not occurred here naturally since the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. That is, until the European eagle-owl was discovered in the Forest of Bowland Wells, Lancashire, Northern England.

Whilst many ornithologists were delighted by the news, the owl's presence on the Island has caused some controversy.

As a top predator, there are some concerns that the Eurasian may have a significant impact on the Island's fauna. Particularly at risk, some would argue, are Britain's Hen Harrier population. The remains of several Hen Harriers have been found where the Eurasian is nesting, and with fewer than 20 pairs throughout the country, this has caused concern.

Those who are encouraged by the presence of the Eurasian in the UK argue that Hen Harriers and Eagle eagle-owls coexist in parts of Europe without threatening the other's survival.

In contrast, those who are concerned about the possible impacts of the Eurasian on Britain's wildlife argue that there is no evidence that the Eurasian is naturally occurring here, and the birds are thought to have been previously kept in captivity.

If evidence is found that the Eurasian is naturally occurring in Britain, the birds will be given full protection under the law. If the opposite is found to be the case, and the owl's presence has been proven to have a detrimental effect on the country's fauna, it is possible that the birds may be culled.

At the time of writing, the Eurasian is being monitored and attempts will be made, over a period of time, to establish whether the regions wildlife has been adversely affected by the presence of the owl. The Eurasian is safe, for now.


Kid Who I Studying The Species on February 22, 2017:

I use this for my project in school. I put the site in my Bibliography.

Sally pegler on April 25, 2015:

I have lived by an eagle owl uk for 18months. A male ex captive. Free for about 3 yrs we think in our area.

Very vocal. But Wildlife in my area is better than its ever been. Birds. Raptors and deer. All in and around a small town.

He has tried to mate with people here during breeding season. Landing on peoples bcks. But not hurting anyone. Does a dance n off he goes. Most here love him. A beautiful bird. And if he hasn't effected our wildlife. Then we say leave them alone.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 01, 2013:

It is a big owl, Beth! I read a lot and have always regretted not studying biology. I fancy myself as the next David Attenborough lol.

Beth37 on July 31, 2013:

That is a big freakin' owl. Where did you learn so much about wildlife? I don't imagine England with a lot of wildlife... but of course that's silly. Good hub. Very informative. :)

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Roysyas and Pamela, thank you very much- I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.

Joy, it must have been really interesting working with the owls. I can well imagine that they have their own personalities, they're so intelligent and sound quite social too. Thanks for commenting.

Randy and Rose, thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and appreciate your comments.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on July 18, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD! This was an awesome article on the Eurasian Eagle Owl. It was very insightful and interesting. Loved the images. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on July 18, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD for this article, Hollie! It's well deserved.

JoyLevine from 3rd Rock from the Sun on July 18, 2013:

Beautiful article. Yes, I, too love owls. And I love the way they can fly so silently above you. I used to do public presentations at a Science Center where I worked and we would demonstrate the difference between a normal bird's feather and an owl feather by waving it above the crowd's head, close by them, so they could hear the difference. Then we would show the difference in structure under a microscope using slides. They have an amazing design.

They really have their own personalities, too. One young owl I worked with was particularly comical. He was a red phase screech owl that had been hit by a car and could not be released back into the wild. Every time we would feed him, he would fly into the corner of his enclosure and turn his face towards the wall. Then he would slowly turn his head and peek out at us. He would do nothing until we left. As soon as we left, (we'd spy on him with the cameras) he'd fly right over and eat. He was definitely not a social eater. Another adult female we took care of had a funny habit of looking at you directly, then (seemingly) rolling her eyes and looking away. She was very vocal. She would call to us all the time. You could get her to call back at you at the slightest sound. The kids loved seeing that. Or I should say, hearing that.

They are such beautiful creatures. Thanks for the article.

Pamela Sarzana from northern Indiana on July 18, 2013:

very cool article, well written, interesting, nice video and pictures. I am an animal lover and and enjoyed this.

closed profile from Earth on July 18, 2013:

Awesome, firm and creepy creature.

Congrats on the hub of the day!

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Thank you, R Talloni. This is a magnificent creature, I would be very sad to hear that culling might be a possibility, but there are some genuine concerns about the threats which the owls may pose. Thanks for stopping by.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Thank you, thumb17. It is good news to hear that some species are making a comeback- makes a refreshing change. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

RTalloni on July 18, 2013:

An interesting discussion about the issues. Thanks for including quality photos and videos to show off the magnificence of this creature with the information. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this post!

JR Krishna from India on July 18, 2013:

Cogratulations on the hub of the day

It is nice to hear that whose numbers were reducing have made a comeback.

Voted up

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Thanks GM, I've hired some push bikes for today, so we'll see how I fair in the hot weather. (it's been years since I rode a push bike :))

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Hi annart,

I love birds of prey too. I actually spotted a hawk yesterday, it was just hovering in the air. I really wanted to take a picture but I was blinded by the sun and couldn't get a decent shot. Next time perhaps. Thanks for stopping by.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 18, 2013:

Enjoy your holiday, Hollie.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2013:

Thank you, GM. I'm actually on holiday in Greece at the moment, so this is a really pleasant surprise.

annart on July 18, 2013:

This is a great hub with wonderful pictures. I love birds of prey and often go to the centre near Newent in Hampshire; it's educational and a great place for groups of children to spend a day, with flight shows of all kinds. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 18, 2013:

Insightful and educational hub. Congratulations on being HOTD, Hollie!

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 06, 2013:


As far as I ascertain, there is just one pair of Eurasians in the Forest of Bowland Wells, and the dead Hen Harriers have been discovered near to where they are nesting. The thing that niggles me though, is that Eurasians (as with other owls) swallow their victim whole. I know the Eurasians are the mostly likely culprits for the devoured Hen Harriers, but surely if the Eurasians were responsible for their deaths, there would be no remains. Unless they've just found a few feathers-possible, I suppose.

It is a difficult one to call, because the Hen Harriers should be protected too, there's only small number of them in the UK. However, I'd hate to see the Eurasian culled, they are amazing. I don't know how practical this would be, or how feasible, but if the Eurasian does have an adverse effect on local populations, I wonder if it would be possible to move them? (probably not possible) It's just that they have prospered in some parts of Europe when they nest near landfills (we have plenty of those) They have proven that they can exist pretty merrily on a diet of rats- whose numbers always need to be controlled.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 06, 2013:

I like owls too, PDS. Other than at the zoo, I've only seen an owl twice. The first time, I was six years old and on holiday in Cornwall. Looking back, it was probably just a barn owl- but it frightened me to death and my dad spent the rest of the evening consoling me. The second time was when I lived in North Wales- very early morning, and it was magnificent.

Yes, most owls are almost, completely silent in flight- and the Eurasian is known to be particularly sneaky when it comes to hunting. Nature's silent assassin. :)

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on July 06, 2013:

Beautiful owls Hollie. If they are proved to be an invasive species it will be a difficult one to call, as you will have a battle going on between the wildlife supporters and the landowners. I think they should be left alone if at all possible, until more evidence on the impact they are having on other species can be verified. Saying that we now have two million invasive Muntjac deer in the UK nibbling away at our native plants (hint: go eat the Japanese Knotweed!) They maybe cute, but they cause a lot of road accidents.

x on July 06, 2013:

I like owls. I even saw one once. And it was spooky! Very early morning, still dark. I was outside. The owl was motionless on my neighbor's roof. And that thing was a monster... I likewise remained motionless. The thing finally flew off. What made the whole thing spooky was that that behemoth made not a sound when it left. Not a wing flap, I mean nothing, I mean not a sound at all. It was there, and then in was gone. If there had been a cat wandering around, and if that owl had been hungry, that cat would have been no more...

Sharing this page with other pro owl folks.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 29, 2013:

Hi Izzy,

You're so lucky, I've never heard nor seen an owl where I live, but I'm going to dig up as much info as I can about sightings is this area. I imagine that in your neck of the woods there is quite a diverse range of wildlife. Wish I lived there, or where Randy is.

IzzyM from UK on April 28, 2013:

There are owls in my backyard, but I have no idea what type because the light is always too poor when they appear! That said, I feel honoured that they have chosen to inhabit the local area.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 28, 2013:

Hi aviannovice,

I absolutely agree, they are stunning creatures, and you'd think that after taking them to the brink of existence we'd be celebrating their return, not discussing whether they should continue to inhabit our world. I hope you get to spot a Eurasian one day.

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 28, 2013:

Hi Randy, men mess with nature to their own detriment, when will they realise this? I'm glad raptures are making a come back in your part of the world too Randy. I'd love to see the wildlife in the US, you are so lucky, and I'd love to be able to spot owls where you are.

Thanks, I find the subject fascinating too, I could study these creatures all day long. :)

HollieT (author) from Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 28, 2013:

It's a refreshing change isn't it to hear that a species population is recovering? It would be such a terrible shame if we were to cull these fantastic owls. I mean, surely their numbers could be controlled by other means if the need arises.

I thought the posture was impressive too, and I thought the handler was rather brave to stroke it's chest. Yes, I know, the chicks, but like you say at least they're dead.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 28, 2013:

This is truly a beautiful owl that has its right to life. It is magnificent. I hope that I am afforded the opportunity to see it one day, and perhaps study it.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on April 28, 2013:

I'm pleased these birds are making a comeback, Hollie. The same can be said for many of the raptors in this part of the country, thankfully. DDT used by the farmers in the middle of the 20th century as an insecticide made many species of birds produce very fragile shells with only a few surviving the hatching process.