Eagle owl – the largest owl specie of the world
Not so long time ago it was a very rare bird, extinguished in many regions of Europe.
Finally, in 1960 the first protective measures and reintroduction took place, which helped to slow down this tendency. But even nowadays its population is very low and this spectacular bird dearly needs our protection.
Why was this owl on the edge of extinction? There are many reasons. Some we can influence, some not. Please take a while to go through this article. Maybe there is something you could do to help to save them.
Direct persecution by hunters
I hope there is no need to explain that it is strictly forbidden to kill eagle owls. And let us hope that this reason is matter of past times. Hunters considered an eagle owl their direct competence and big danger for all the small wild animals. But is it true? What do the eagle owl prey on?
There is documented evidence of 72 different species that form its diet.
The eagle owl is an opportunist bird – it means its alimentation adapts to the actual population of wildlife in the place it lives. Eagle owl specializes on the most common animal of its territory and selects the injured and the weak ones. So, for example:
- Hedgehogs are mostly eaten in Bavaria and Bulgaria
- Water rats in Sweden
- Rabbits in France
- Hamsters, Hares and Partridges in Austria
- Seabirds and Fishes in Norway
- Frogs in the Alps regions
They also do hunt ravens, pigeons, squirrels, bats, birds of prey and owls. They are strong enough to overpower an adult fox.
But is there a reason for hunters to persecute eagle owls so drastically? I found this photo on a web of a hunting trip agency. Do we need words for this?
Eagle owls hunt only as much as they need to survive and to secure their progeny. There is no comparison with the number of animals that one person can kill in one single day. (Please don’t think that all the hunters are like this one. Hunters are needed to keep a sort of balance in the nature, to compensate for the mistakes we humans do. Unfortunately, not all of them do hunt with responsibility.)
Direct persecution by farmers
OK, there are also not so nice facets of eagle owls – seen by our human criteria. In our park, we predict respect for the Nature and we think that it is important that you understand all the appearances. So, where is the problem with the farmers? If you live in the country and eagle owls breed close-by, sometimes you can lose some of your animals. I tell you what happened in our neighbour village years ago. And no, they didn’t kill the eagle owls, for the people here love and respect the nature.
Here goes the story: Cats of Cambils of the Pyrenees
Cambrils is a lovely small village in the middle of the pure nature of the Pyrenees. The inhabitants have to face every day the reality of living hand in hand with wildlife. For example, house-cats are really important there, they keep the mice under control and at the same time they give company to the humans. Any visitor who had the luck to visit this beautiful and authentic village would agree with me: it is lovely to sit on the terrace of one of its two restaurants, to enjoy the views of the green large forests that surround it, to follow the clouds on the blue sky, to listen the shouts of birds of prey while they overfly the valley and to enjoy the tender company of a house-cat.
So, what happened? Some years ago, a pair of eagle owls had chosen these quite surroundings to build a nest and to form a family there. During this period disappeared almost all the cats from the village by and by. The people were sad and angry: it was painful to lose their pet, everybody would feel like them.
But let’s face the other side of the true: during the night, house-cats transform in dangerous and fierce predators of wild animals. In one night, they can lay back 4 km of distance. They visit nests of partridges, they hunt small rabbits and hares… so there should be no surprise that the nature treats them as a part of its wildlife – they enter in the natural alimentation cycle. Please understand that nature doesn’t know that the owners of cats feed their animals with special cats’ aliments which they buy in the town. Nature perceives only what happens while cats make their night-hunting-trips. And its logic is simple:
- There is a large population of cats in a small space around the village of Cambrils.
- There is a big danger for small and middle sized birds and mammals – especially the young ones.
- Balance is needed! Vulnerable ones need to be protected against the plague of cats.
- Eagle owls are needed.
And here ends the story of cats and eagle owls in Cambrils. Just let me tell you that the population of cats has recovered perfectly and, if you are lucky, you can still hear the mysterious “uhuuu-uuuhuuu” of eagle owls during the night.
Using young eagle owls for persecution of ravens and other birds
Long time ago people lived closely with nature, they observed wildlife and they tried to pick up useful things that could help them to survive. They found out: eagle owls hide during the day! They saw that the owls’ sight is quite good during daylight and direct sunlight doesn’t hurt them. So why were they hiding? They couldn’t know that during the day, the sense of sight of the owls is much worse that the one of birds of prey, and that owls lack the sense of smelling and that this makes them an easy target for mammal-predators and large birds of prey. At the same time, it was observed that any bird, big or small, demonstrates strong hatred against eagle owls during day and if they detect this huge night predator they fly there to attack it. Eagle owl don’t defend itself too much during day time, because movement could wake up an interest of large day-meat-eaters.
So far, very nice observation, isn’t it? And how did people use this fact? They took young eagle owls from their nests and made them grow in the houses. When the babies were big and “scary” enough, they took them to the fields and bound them in an open place. Usually they “protected” the owl with a net and they hid themselves. It didn’t take long until small and big birds discovered the owl and started to attack it fiercely. And… yes, you can imagine that on this way many, many birds could be killed or captured easily. Even clever ravens and birds of prey couldn’t resist their natural impulse and become easy victims. Thanks to God that this barbarian habits are forbidden by law and we hope that no one would do this cruelty anymore.
Electricity masts and Accidents with cars
These two reasons go together with the hunting habits of eagle owls. They hunt in two different ways:
They sit on a high place, observe and explore their surrounding by its excellent hearing. When they localize the exact position of their prey they open their wings and in a slow silent flight they approach to it and catch it with its incredible strong claws. Unfortunately, they often choose the electricity masts for their search. Due to their huge size, it often happens that they touch two wires at the same moment. Deadly electricity shoots through their body, they cause a short circuit and they die in a matter of seconds.
They overfly on its silent, long, soft wings their territory in search of birds and other potential preys. Its flight is slow and low. They search for movement in the grass and listen attentively if there is any noise that would reveal the presence of animals. Lamentably they overfly the roads as well. There is almost nothing the driver can do when a large owl surprises him by appearing just in front of his car.
The eagle owl breeds in large cavities in the cliffs or simply on the ground in shallow holes. You need to understand that eagle owls are devoted parents. The mother incubates the eggs almost without any break during 34 days. When the babies hatch, she always protects them. Even when she feeds them she covers them with her feathers and gives them small pieces of meat tenderly beneath the feathers of her body. She also stays with the babies when they are big enough and do not need her warming anymore. During all this time the father flies in search of food for his whole family. The young ones stay for 5 month in the care of their parents. So, what can happen that would make the parents abandon their offspring? Climbers, fans of paragliding for example, even hikers that walk through the forest not following the paths. If the female is forced to abandon the clutch of her eggs, they cool down and the embryos dye. But also with her youngsters in the nest the situation is critique. The eagle owls are “programed” to survive. If people disturbs their breeding place too often, they are forced to abandon their children in hope that the next year they will find a more tranquil place to ensure the future of their family.
It’s not only the direct persecution that causes a decrease of their population. The eagle owl is the last one in its alimentary chain and so, if there is an animal affected by poison, it’s very possible that it will turn into the meal of an eagle owl. Please remember, the eagle owl specializes in hunting weak beings. The poisoned animal is an ideal objective for them. But poison works efficiently and it does not only kill the animal that eats it, but also the one who consumes the affected one. Please be very careful with using poison for any reason.
Did you like this article? Or do you think I should not write about the “dark site” of the animals? Please let me know your opinion. Is there any animal you’d like to read about the next time? Just leave a commentary below.