This week I really felt like drawing eyes, so I looked around the internet for a bird with impressive eyes. It’s hard to get more intense eyes than those of a bird of prey, so I was looking mainly for some kind of eagle or owl. And then I stumbled across the magnificent eagle-owl, and I knew I’d found my blog animal for the day.
There are a number of species of eagle-owl, but I’m going to focus on the one that is most commonly referred to as just ‘eagle-owl’ — the Eurasian eagle-owl. As the name suggests, Eurasian eagle-owls are found in Europe and Asia, covering a vast range of about 32 million square kilometres. They aren’t super picky about where they live, and are found in forests, deserts, mountain ranges, farmlands, and riverbeds. Though adaptable, eagle-owls prefer rocky landscapes, which are ideal for nesting.
Eagle-owls are quite large, and are known for being one of the largest species of owl in the world. Their total length ranges from 56 to 75 cm, with wingspans that can reach up to two meters. These owls weigh between 1.22 to 4.6 kg, with females being larger than males. Eagle-owls are mostly brown and black, with white markings on their faces and necks. They have very noticeable ear tufts and giant, orange eyes.
These fearsome birds are quite territorial, chasing other owls and owls of their own species out of their space. They generally stay in the same territory year after year, unless food becomes too scarce or they driven away by other eagle-owls. Being owls, these guys are nocturnal, coming out to hunt at dusk and staying active for most of the night.
As big birds, eagle-owls are capable of hunting some fairly sizeable prey. They are known to eat rats, mice, voles, fawns, and foxes. Other prey items include various bird species, including crows, ducks and owls. Eagle owls scan for prey from perches, and then swoop down for the kill. Like other owls, eagle-owls are silent fliers, and use their excellent sight and hearing to track prey in the darkness. Most of the time prey is killed by eagle-owls’ strong talons, but occasionally a swift bite to the head is needed.
Eagle-owls are normally disturbed loners, but do pair up during the breeding season. Courtship begins in the winter, in January and February. Eagle-owls have a variety of vocalizations, used for territoriality and for courtship. Pair bonds are maintained for life, and owls go through courtship rituals each year to strengthen their bonds. Courtship involves a series of calls, bows, and rubbing against one another.
The birds nest on rocky surfaces, usually on cliffs or slopes, though they will nest on the ground if no alternative is available. One to four eggs are laid, which are incubated solely by the female owl. Her mate does help out, though, by bringing her food during incubation. The eggs hatch after about a month, and the owlets grow very quickly, faster than any other species of owl. I suppose you have to grow quite quickly if you’re going to become one of the world’s largest owls. They will walk out of the nest at five weeks of age, and can fly for short distances at seven weeks. The young birds become independent in the fall, and are sexually mature at two to three years of age.
Eagle-owls have a large population worldwide, as well as an extensive range. Because of this, they are currently a species of least concern, which is great news. Hopefully such beautiful and amazing birds can continue to grace our night skies for years to come.