Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god! I saw my first all wild Eurasian eagle-owl! And he was so handsome!
I’ve recently started the habit of taking a break and going outside for an hour every day so I don’t feel psychologically dead every evening, after a long day of staring at a laptop screen. And it is wonderful. Birding is an interest I developed only once I got to university and had a professor who was wild about birds and used them in all our practical examples of ecosystem assessments. Now I love it!
Remember when we were young and every _______(insert major sport event here), a collectable sticker album would come out and kids would save up their pocket money to buy packs of stickers picturing the athletes, trade with their friends and try to fill up their collection book before the season was over? I am a grown woman with the same excitement only my album is a bird book and my stickers are my notes of when and where I spotted the bird in question.
I was actually looking for black woodpeckers, which I had been hearing regularly on my walks through the beech forest but this day, as I climbed the hill into the forest close to my house, I heard a faint “hoooo”…
There is only one owl that makes this noise and that is the Eurasian eagle-owl! So far I had only heard him call at night. I got instantly supercharged because he was really near. I called back and he answered. And that way he guided me up the mountain. I marched up that mountain so fast I surprised myself with my physical abilities. I kept calling, he kept answering. Until I came to a bench upon which sat a couple with their limbs intertwined as is the central European human’s courtship behavior. They completely abandoned their ritual to stare in bewilderment at the strange woman power-walking up the hill hooting. And I get embarrassed. So I shut up and kept marching. I had a pretty good idea of where to look now.
Further up the hill, there is an exposed rock face in the middle of the forest. And that’s the kind of place these owls like to roost at.
HOW TO FIND THE EURASIAN EAGLE-OWL
Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo) are Europe’s largest owl with a wingspan of up to 170cm (5 ft. 9 in.).
They occur throughout most of Europe, Russia, all the way to China.
They prefer mountainous forest with cliffs and rock faces and old trees, where they often roost on a cliff, less often even on the ground at the foot of a tree or boulder. Some may also roost in an abandoned rapture nest in a tree or even barn.
The best way to find one is to listen and follow their calls.
When I got to the foot of the rock face, I could hear him somewhere above the cliffs but, even after pulling out my binoculars, I could not see him.
So I took a hike along the rock face to where I could climb the hill without being a professional boulderer. As I walked between the trees above the rock face, I finally spotted him! A huge dark shape, high up in a pine tree. He turned his head 180° and we looked at each other for a moment. Then he lost interest in me and I continued to walk towards his tree.
You do not want to come into contact with their gigantic talons. These owls like to pray on small mammals and medium sized birds. I have been told they might go for a cat and even a not-so-small barn owl. But they are quite relaxed around intruders like me. They tend to just sit still in a tree and work their camouflage rather than waste energy on an attack, even close to their nest. If they have to divert you from stepping on their nest, they will most likely do the lame duck thing, pretending to be injured and lead the potential predator away from the nest. Or they will make a horrible screeching sound that will scare you away. Never the less, I still had immense respect for the might of this bird.
But we just chilled together. I sat under his tree for a few minutes, he stared at me sternly for a moment and didn’t budge. He had bright orange eyes and his reddish brown and black speckled chest feathers slightly fluttered in the gentle breeze, looking amazingly soft and delicate.
I didn’t want to disturb him any more than I already had, so I thanked him for his hospitality and sneaked away, picking up all the litter along the way to pay my tolls for the intrusion of the forest.
How to Protect the Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Well, although the populations are declining overall, their range is so vast that the IUCN classifies these beauties as “least concern”. The best thing to do for them, is to tell everyone about their majesty (don’t mention the cat thing, people probably won’t like that) and boost their intrinsic value to the general public. If you come across a Eurasian eagle-owl, keep a safe distance from their nest, and never harass them at any time. This above story is the absolute maximum of what I deem okay. They are a little sensitive to disturbance.
If you have any influence on city planning, encourage building practices that grow the city vertically instead of horizontally. That way, you prevent “human encroachment” and “human-wildlife-conflinct” (e.g. the cat thing), two major factors that impact not only the Eurasian eagle-owl but most animals on this planet.