Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo)

Also known as: common eagle-owl, Eurasian eagle owl, great eagle-owl, northern eagle-owl
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderStrigiformes
FamilyStrigidae
GenusBubo (1)
SizeLength: 60 - 75 cm (2)
Wingspan: 160 - 188 cm (2)
Male weight: 1.5 - 2.8 kg (2)
Female weight: 1.75 - 4.2 kg (2)
Top facts

The Eurasian eagle-owl is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Considered to be one of the largest owls in the world, the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) is an impressive and majestic bird, with distinctive, prominent ear-tufts, a barrel-shaped body, and vivid orange eyes. The Eurasian eagle-owl’s plumage is buffy-brown and heavily mottled and streaked with black, with paler underparts and fine barring on the belly and flanks. The wings and tail are marked with dark bars. The throat is white (2) (4) (5) (6) and is used in intraspecific communication, as a visual signal associated with vocal displays (7) (8) (9).

The Eurasian eagle-owl’s ‘facial disc’, the flat or concave arrangement of feathers on the face which is typical of owls, is greyish (2) (5), and is less developed than in many other owl species (6). The beak is black, and the legs and large, powerful toes are covered with buffy-white feathers (2).

The Eurasian eagle-owl is quite variable in appearance across its range, with a number of subspecies recognised, which differ in size, colouration, and the strength of the dark markings (2) (5) (6) (10) (11). The juvenile Eurasian eagle-owl can be recognised by its rudimentary ear-tufts, narrowly barred underparts, and buffy down on the head (2).

The distinctive call of the Eurasian eagle-owl is a deep, booming ‘ooo-hu’ (2) (4) (5), while other vocalisations include a quiet, guttural chuckling, and a bark-like scream given by the female (2) (4) (12).

The Eurasian eagle-owl has one of the largest ranges of any eagle-owl (6), being found across much of Europe, through the Middle East, Russia and Asia, and as far east as China, Korea and Japan (2) (5) (11) (13). Although this species is generally absent from Britain and Ireland (11), small numbers are now beginning to breed in Britain (14).

This owl usually inhabits natural rocky areas with cliffs and ravines, as well as quarries and buildings, patches of woodland or scattered trees. It also occurs in open forest, taiga, wooded steppe, semi-desert, and farmland with suitable rocky areas (2) (4) (5) (11). The Eurasian eagle-owl and can be found at elevations of up to about 2,000 metres in Europe and 4,500 metres in Central Asia and the Himalayas (2) (11).

Recently, this species has started to colonise urban habitats and is now breeding in several towns in Europe (15).

Usually most active at dawn and dusk (2) (4), the Eurasian eagle-owl has a powerful, fast flight, which is somewhat reminiscent of that of a buzzard (Buteo buteo) (2) (4) (16). Hunting occurs from an open perch or in flight, and the owl may also search rock crevices for roosting birds, take both adult and young birds from nests, or even plunge into water to capture fish (2) (16). The diet of the Eurasian eagle-owl mainly consists of mammals, up to the size of adult hares or even young deer, as well as birds up to the size of herons and buzzards, and occasionally amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects (2) (5) (6) (16).

The Eurasian eagle-owl usually begins breeding from late winter (2) (5). The nest is located on a sheltered cliff ledge, in a cave or crevice, in the old nest of another large bird species, or occasionally in a tree hole or on the ground (2) (4) (5) (16). The species has usually been considered to be monogamous, but some cases of bigamy have been recorded recently (15). A breeding pair may use the same nest site over several years (2).

Between one and five eggs are laid, and are incubated by the female for 34 to 36 days, during which time the male brings food to the nest. The young Eurasian eagle-owls first leave the nest at around five weeks old, but cannot fly until about seven weeks, and remain dependent on the adults for a further three to four months (2) (5) (16), not generally starting to disperse until they are approximately 170 days old (17) The Eurasian eagle-owl reaches sexually maturity at 1 year (15), and may live up to 21 years or more in the wild, or to an impressive 60 years in captivity (2).

The Eurasian eagle-owl underwent a significant decline in Europe during the 20th century, due mainly to human persecution (2) (13) (16). Pesticide use and poisoning from mercury seed-dressings have also been a problem, as have collisions with vehicles, barbed wire (2) and powerlines (18) (19) (20). In addition, diseases such as myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease have decimated rabbit populations in some areas, with severe knock-on effects for the Eurasian eagle-owl (2) (21).

Although the Eurasian eagle-owl has now recovered to some extent and is not currently considered globally threatened, illegal persecution still occurs, and the population remains below its former levels (2) (5) (13). The Eurasian eagle-owl is thought to be highly sensitive to disturbance, particularly during incubation, which may cause adults to abandon eggs and even small young (2) (22).

The Eurasian eagle-owl has recovered to some extent in Europe as a result of improved protection, extensive reintroduction and restocking programmes, and an increased food supply due to clear-felling and the proliferation of refuse tips, with the resulting increases in rats and other rodents (2) (5) (16). Within Europe, this species is protected under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) (23) and the EC Birds Directive (24), and international trade in the species should be controlled under its listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3).

Little detailed information is available on Asian populations of this species (2). Conservation measures recommended for the Eurasian eagle-owl include protecting its habitat from development and extensive logging, as well as action to prevent collisions with powerlines (19) (20).

In Britain, the Eurasian eagle-owl has commonly been kept in captivity, but escapes and releases have occurred (25). Although it is difficult to prove with certainty, wild individuals are thought to have come from released birds rather than ones that have reached the country naturally from mainland Europe (26). There are fears that if the population of Eurasian eagle-owls in Britain grows then some native birds, including vulnerable birds of prey, could be at risk of increased predation by this species (25) (26).

It has been recommended that the potential impact of this large owl on native British wildlife be assessed (14) and that its behaviour, diet and population should be monitored (26). The Eurasian eagle-owl is listed under Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England and Wales, making it an offence to release this species into the wild or to allow it to escape (25).

For more information on the Eurasian eagle-owl, see:

To find out more about the conservation of this and other owl species see:

Authenticated (18/08/10) by Dr Vincenzo Penteriani, Estación Biológica de Doñana, C.S.I.C., Department of Conservation Biology, c/ Americo Vespucio s/n, 41092 Seville, Spain.
http://www.vincenzopenteriani.org/

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1999) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5: Barn-Owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (October, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  5. World Owl Trust (October, 2009)
    http://www.owls.org/
  6. Warhol, T. (2007) Owls. Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, New York.
  7. Penteriani, V., Delgado, M.M., Alonso-Alvarez, C. and Sergio, F. (2007) The importance of visual cues for nocturnal species: eagle owls signal by badge brightness. Behavioral Ecology, 18: 143-147.
  8. Penteriani, V., and Delgado, M.M. (2009) The dusk chorus from an owl perspective: eagle owls vocalize when their white throat badge contrasts most. PLoS ONE, 4(4): e4960.
  9. Penteriani, V., Delgado, M.M., Campioni, L. and Lourenço, R. (2010) Moonlight makes owls more chatty. PLoS ONE, 5(1): e8696.
  10. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (October, 2009)
    http://www.itis.gov/
  11. Weick, F. (2006) Owls: Strigiformes. Annotated and Illustrated Checklist. Springer, Berlin.
  12. Delgado, M.M. and Penteriani, V. (2007) Vocal behaviour and neighbour spatial arrangement during vocal displays in eagle owls (Bubo bubo). Journal of Zoology, 271: 3-10.
  13. BirdLife International- Eurasian eagle-owl (October, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=2215
  14. RSPB (October, 2009)
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/
  15. Penteriani, V. (August, 2010) Pers. comm.
  16. The Peregrine Fund: Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) (October, 2009)
    http://www.peregrinefund.org/explore_raptors/owls/eagleowl.html
  17. Delgado, M.M., Penteriani, V., Revilla, E. and Nams, V.O. (2010) The effect of phenotypic traits and external cues on natal dispersal movements. Journal of Animal Ecology, 79: 620-632.
  18. Martínez, J.A., Martínez, J.E., Mañosa, S., Zuberogoitia, I. and Calvo, J.F. (2006) How to manage human-induced mortality in the Eagle Owl Bubo bubo. Bird Conservation International, 16: 265-278.
  19. Rubolini, D., Bassi, E., Bogliani, G., Galeotti, P. and Garavaglia, R. (2001) Eagle owl Bubo bubo and power line interactions in the Italian Alps. Bird Conservation International, 11: 319-324.
  20. Sergio, F., Marchesi, L., Pedrini, P., Ferrer, M. and Penteriani, V. (2004) Electrocution alters the distribution and density of a top predator, the eagle owl Bubo bubo. Journal of Applied Ecology, 41: 836-845.
  21. Martínez, J.A. and Zuberogoitia, I. (2001) The response of the eagle owl (Bubo bubo) to an outbreak of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Journal of Ornithology, 142: 204-211.
  22. Penteriani, V., Delgado, M.M., Maggio, C., Aradis, A. and Sergio, F. (2005) Development of chicks and predispersal behaviour of young in the eagle owl Bubo bubo. Ibis, 147: 155-168.
  23. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2009)
    http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/104.htm
  24. EC Birds Directive (October, 2009)
    http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1373
  25. GB Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS): Identification Sheet - Eagle owl (October, 2013)
    https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/nonnativespecies/index.cfm?sectionid=47
  26. RSPB - Eagle owls in Britain (October, 2013)
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/policy/species/nonnative/eagleowls.aspx