A feature named ‘The Hunter’s High Road.’ Check back to see an animal that represents the apex of predatory evolution. Carnivores come in a range of shapes and sizes, using a variety of tricks to catch their prey. Some are powerful, some are beautiful. All are deadly.
A hunter that I’ve admired for many years is the Eurasian Eagle-Owl because of its speed, precision and beauty when in flight. One of the largest species, females grow up to 75cm with a wingspan of over 6 feet. They’re known for distinctive orange eyes and ear tufts that rise out of the face. Eagle-owls can be found in different habitats, ranging from mountain ranges to coniferous forests. With an estimated population of between 250 thousand and 2.5 million, the species is one of the most widely distributed.
Eagle-owls are nocturnal predators, though they have been recorded hunting during late afternoon in the far north. When hunting, eagle-owls are known to kill prey beyond the capacities of other owls as well as having the most diverse diet. They are able to adapt to small prey when larger food isn’t available.
The eagle-owl hunts lemmings, voles, rabbits, hedgehogs, roe deer, wild boar, goats, pigeons, crows, jays, frogs, snakes, falcons, buzzards and other owls. It hunts by watching from a perch and swoops in quickly to grab prey with its talons. They search for food in woodlands but aren’t suited to thick foliage as they hunt by sight rather than sound. Eagle-owls are too heavy to hunt constantly when flying so they’re better suited to ambushing. The owl will eat small prey immediately while larger prey is torn apart on the ground to make it manageable.
When it comes to breeding, the species are territorial and will defend against other eagle-owls all year around. Courtship is carried out through the male singing from a high perch while the female may engage in ‘duetting.’ This is when the male is sitting upright and the female bows as she calls back. The pair then bond for life and nest together on slopes or in crevices. Eggs are laid during winter with the first hatching after 30 days of incubation. Chicks grow quickly, being able to eat prey whole after three weeks. The male brings food and the female tears it up into suitable pieces.
Eagle-owls aren’t as endangered as some species, but there is growing concern for them in central Europe. Despite the governmental protection for eagle-owls in Spain there has been no positive effect for reducing persecution. Therefore it’s been recommended that education and stewardship programs be introduced to stop eagle-owls being killed.
For more information on how to protect eagle-owls and other species you can visit The World Owl Trust website.