Let's Talk About Birds: Eurasian eagle owl

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Standing more than two feet tall, weighing up to eight pounds and with a wingspan of almost six feet, the Eurasian eagle owl is so large and powerful that it regularly preys on other predators, including hawks, eagles and other owls. In fact, in every ecosystem where it lives, it is an apex, or top predator — in other words, it eats, but it is never eaten. With its prominent ear tufts and brilliant orange eyes, the species is well known to many as Draco Malfoy’s owl in the popular Harry Potter movies.

“Bubo bubo” is the scientific name of the Eurasian eagle owl, and it is the second largest owl in the world. Across Europe, North Africa and Asia it is the ecological counterpart of North America’s closely related great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), occurring in a wide variety of habitats, such as deserts, farmlands, forests and even in developed areas. The male’s loud low call, “Ooh-wooo,” sounds like a baying hound dog; the call of the larger female is higher pitched.

In the wild, Eurasian eagle owls range over huge year-round territories of up to 20 square miles, searching for a wide variety of prey to feed themselves and their young. Although they are powerful enough to tackle prey even larger than themselves, such as small deer, they feed mostly on rats, mice and rabbits. They will nest on cliff ledges, in large holes in old trees, in the abandoned nests of other large birds such as hawks and ravens, and even on the ground. They lay from one to four eggs, and, like Pittsburgh’s nesting bald eagles, they hatch after 35 days of incubation.

Eagle owl chicks grow very rapidly during the first 30 days of their life, increasing their mass by a factor of 10 — that translates to a weight gain of about 25 grams (almost an ounce) every day. In the wild, they grow large enough to leave the nest in about 45 days, and by the time they are 2 months old they have reached adult size. The adults care for them for another three or four months, and the young owls usually do not breed until they are at least 2 years old. In the wild Eurasian eagle owls are known to live more than 20 years; captive birds can live for 60 years.

The National Aviary is home to five Eurasian eagle owls, including two young owls that were hatched here. You can see the youngest owl, Tootsie, who just hatched at the end of January, through a window in our Avian Care Center daily from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. And everybody is invited to come and celebrate the older owl, Pumpkin’s, first hatch-day on Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (www.aviary.org/special-events/HB-Pumpkin).

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