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What is an Eagle Owl?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The eagle owl is a large and powerful owl that inhabits a wide range throughout Europe and Asia. With two distinctive tufts of feathers on the head, this species is a common sight throughout its vast territory. Though typically preferring a forest environment, some eagle owls have made headlines for choosing to mark out territory in urban settings.

One of the largest species of owl in the world, the eagle owl can reach an impressive two to three feet in height (0.6-0.9 m) and boast a wingspan of up to seven feet (2.1 m) wide. Females are considerably larger and heavier than males, and may weigh between seven and nine lbs (3.1-4 kg). In the wild, the birds may survive up to 20 years, but captive specimens regularly live considerably longer.

The most distinctive feature of the eagle owl other than the telltale tufts of feathers is the bird's large eyes. Often orange or amber-colored, the eyes of the eagle assist it in hunting. Coloration on the body is mostly brown and white patterns, but some owls have a distinct orange cast to brown feathers.

A fierce and forceful hunter, some experts suggest that the eagle owl is capable of killing relatively large mammals, such as foxes, pigs, and fawns. More often, the eagle owl prefers a diet of small mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and hedgehogs. Employing its excellent night vision and near-silent flying ability, the owl swoops on prey from overhead.

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Rocky outcrops and cliffs are where many eagle owls choose to build their nests. A mating pair will build a nest in early spring, typically beginning around February, and most clutches contain only a few eggs. The female owl incubates the eggs, keeping them warm and protecting them from possible predators. The male eagle owl hunts for food during the incubation period and early hatching. Fledglings can fly at about two months of age, but remain dependent on parents for somewhat longer.

Bird experts suggest that the reason for the relatively large population of owls is due to the species' enormous range. With populations stretching from Northern Africa north to Norway, and from Portugal to the eastern edge of China, few large birds can boast a such a massive stretch of home territory. Environmentalists warn, however, that this does not mean the eagle owl is not subject to numerous threats. Pollution, habitat destruction, and hunting have made the owl a rare sight in much of its home territory.

Since 2005, several mated pairs of eagle owls have made news by settling in downtown Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. With ample food sources providing the owls with sustenance, the birds have garnered considerable attention from locals and tourists alike. One eagle owl, nicked named Bubi, famously interrupted a soccer game at Helsinki Olympic stadium, causing a stop in play for several minutes.

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