The Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) resides over much of Eurasia and is typically referred to purely as an Eagle Owl within Europe. The population density of Eagle Owls is considered to be gradually decreasing, and is also widely considered to be an endangered speciesReference IUCN . It is certainly the case that Eagle Owl sightings are now extremely rare in the U.K as a whole, with only a few predominantly unoficial references to sightings in Scotland and the North of England. It is widely referenced that the White Tailed Eagle is the U.Ks rarest bird of prey, however it may sadly be the case that it is in fact the Eurasaian Eagle Owl. It is certainly the case that the IUCN makes no references to any resident Eagle Owls in the UK.
MANKIND’S IMPACT ON THE EAGLE OWL
The decline of the Eurasian Eagle Owl is attriburable to human persecution right into the 20th century. Across Europe reintroduction programmes have been underway, however the Eagle Owl is still subject to illegal killing, as well as road deaths and desease also taking their toll. Consequently the population of these birds has gradually decreased.
EAGLE OWL DIET
Rabbits are their favoured prey. They will also take other mammals such as rats, voles hedgehogs and hares. They are also reported to have preyed on other birds such as woodpeckers and pheasant, and even smaller raptors. Indeed they will also feed on amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects on an opportunistic basis.
The fact that they occasionally prey on other raptors has lead to the consensus of opinion amongst some conservationists that they should not be allowed back into the U.K. as it may impact other sensitive species.
Eagle Owls favour forest, woodland & moorland habitat.
Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK, whereby the blue areas indicate unofficial recorded sightings. It is not an indication of population density.
Nocturnal in nature, they will normally roost during the day, and hunt between dusk and dawn. The exception is when they have chicks, and they can sometimes then be seen during the day. Male & female Eagle Owls look visually identical, albeit females can be slightly larger than males. Typically Eagle Owls will pair for life, and prefer nest sites in sheltered areas along rock faces. They will also use the abandoned nests of other large birds. Females lay up to 4 eggs and incubate them for 34 days. Both the male and female take a part in rearing the young, the male being specifically responsible for bringing all the food required back to the nest. Chicks are fully fledged at around 6 months.
Eagle Owls are silent hunters and use their acute hearing and eyesight to locate and capture their prey. They are able to use the feathers on their face to funnel sounds to their ears to help make precise sound locations of prey.
Male adult Eagle Owls weigh in at up 2.3kg and the females 4.2kg. They stand at between 58 to 71cm with a tail up to 30cm. They have an impressive heavy stance for an owl, and even more impressive is their wing span which can exceed 1m. Their feathers range from grey, brown and black, and they have piecing orange eyes. In the wild, Eagle Owls live up to 20 years. In captivity, they can live up to 60 years.
EAGLE OWL NATURAL PREDATORS
They can be preyed upon by some of the larger mammal predators such as foxes, who can opportunistically ambush the Eagle Owl if they spend a little too long on the ground. Other than this, they have no natural predators.
WHERE & WHEN TO PHOTOGRAPH
It is estimated that there may only be 40 or so adult individuals in the wild. Combine this with their noctural habits and your chances of seeing them are pretty small. Having said that, I was lucky enough to have one of these guys gazing across at me one morning across from my house in the Highlands; so it does happen! Your best bet therefore is to view them at wildlife centers across the U.K. Here are some options:
- Highland Wildlife Park, Cairngorms (Park)
- Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirlingshire (Park)
- Lake District Wildlife (Park)
- Hoo Zoo & Dinosaur World (Park)
- Shepreth Wildlife Park (Park)
CAMERA & SETTINGS
You generally want to be photographing with a telephoto lens. Something in the range of 200mm is ideal, but if you have anything up to about 400mm is great for picking out details.
Map distribution data and behavioral references based on JNCC & World Owl data.
Conservation status and population based on IUCN 2016 assessment.
If you enjoyed this article, and are maybe interested in some of the photography, please check out my Eagle Owl Gallery.