Thrives in mountainous forest areas
The Eurasian eagle-owl can be found in Europe and much of Asia. It usually stays in one place, but young birds can make long journeys to find territories. It thrives in mountainous forest areas, on steep cliffs and on rocky archipelago islands.
About the Eurasian eagle-owlScientific name:
True owls (Strigidae)Weight:
138-170 cmSexual maturity:
Probably 3–4 yearsBreeding season:
Late February to early SeptemberGestation:
1 monthNumber of eggs:
Approx. 20 yearsEats:
Small rodents, larger rodents and birdsDistribution in Sweden:
Most of Sweden except for the far north
In recent decades, it has also nested increasingly often in mines and quarries, as well as on industrial sites and other tall buildings. Once the Eurasian eagle-owl has found its territory, it stays there. Its territory usually covers four to six square kilometres, with a highly varied landscape.
The nesting site is chosen by the male, and is usually positioned on a rocky shelf with a precipice below and a protruding wall for protection. The nest is incomplete, and consists of a bale of material scraped up from the ground and remnants of regurgitated pellets.
One of the world’s largest and heaviest owls
The Eurasian eagle-owl normally lives for around 20 years, but can live much longer in captivity – probably up to 60 years. It weighs between two and four kilograms, making it one of the world’s largest and heaviest owls. It can be recognised by its distinctive ear tufts and orange eyes, its large head and its bushy plumage, which is golden brown with black stripes on the chest. The belly is a rusty yellow colour with narrower black stripes. The upper side is dark brown, and has rough patches and a transverse marking in black. The wing has a black and white band, the claws are thick and the throat – which is only visible when the owl calls – is white. The Eurasian eagle-owl has sharp vision and a good sense of hearing, and can see well in low light. Newly hatched chicks have a light grey plumage and look like little trolls.
Two-syllable hooting and raspy barking
The Eurasian eagle-owl warns off predators with a barking ‘ka’. The young beg for food with a loud chirp, which can be heard during August nights. In late winter, the male sings with a very deep two-syllable hoot while the female’s call is a harsh barking sound. The Eurasian eagle-owl also has a gull-like distress call.
A night-time hunter
The Eurasian eagle-owl mostly hunts at night, and feeds on small rodents, hares, ducks, crows and game birds. Fish, frogs and various small birds are other popular sources of food, and the Eurasian eagle-owl sometimes catches other owls and birds of prey
The male feeds the female during the brooding period
It is not known when the Eurasian eagle-owl reaches sexual maturity, but it is believed that it first nests at around three or four years of age. It has a prolonged nesting period from late February to early September, laying two or three eggs which are then incubated by the female for just over a month. During this time, the male provides the female with food, and he then continues to support the family alone for the first few weeks after the chicks hatch. Both parents then help to provide food for the young. The larger female can often catch larger prey than the male can. However, the male is better at catching smaller prey, so they complement each other which helps to ensure the growth and survival of their young. Bad weather and predators such as martens, foxes and badgers can threaten the brood.
The chicks make their first flight after reaching the age of two months. However, it takes another couple of months before they are mature enough to fend for themselves. The young birds live an itinerant life, searching for suitable mates and breeding territories.
Human impact on the Eurasian eagle-owl
The spread of environmental toxins – especially mercury – had a serious effect on the population in southern and central Sweden, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The owls often had paralysed young, became sterile or died. However, the situation has now improved.
Forestry can cause disturbances when machinery is driven around the nesting sites, but it also has a positive effect through felling increasing the availability of rodents. Outdoor recreation activities can disrupt nesting and contribute to the destruction of egg clutches. The Eurasian eagle-owl is also a victim of poaching, illegal trading in eggs and chicks, and trading in stuffed birds. Today, owls are also killed by power lines and pole transformers, by barbed wire tearing their plumage and in road accidents.
Eurasian eagle-owls can be found in European cities, where they have also been seen nesting. These are probably younger birds looking for territories and mates. They have also been seen hunting rats in open rubbish dumps. This can be risky for the owl, as the rats can carry environmentally harmful substances. They have also been seen flying with various items of rubbish tangled around their feet.
Protection and conservation
The Eurasian eagle-owl was previously hunted because it competed with small game, and until 1925 a reward was paid for shooting the bird. The Eurasian eagle-owl population has declined dramatically during the last 150 years, and in 1950 it was given protected status in Sweden. This did not have any significant effect, and the first species conservation project was therefore launched in the late 1960s, covering Gothenburg, Halland, Bohuslän, Dalsland, Västergötland and Småland. The project was successful, and the breeding pairs were transferred to other Eurasian eagle-owl conservation projects in Sweden in 1983. A peak number of 600 nesting sites were occupied at the turn of the 21st century. Since then, releases have declined and the 2020 inventory listed 458 occupied territories.
The Eurasian eagle-owl and conservation projects at Skansen
In the late 1980s, Skansen began a collaboration with the Archipelago Foundation. This resulted in 33 Eurasian eagle-owls being bred at Skansen and released into the Stockholm Archipelago.
The Eurasian eagle-owl is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the Swedish Species Information Centre’s red list (in Swedish).
Did you know…
The Eurasian eagle-owl is closely associated with myth and legend. In the past, its hooting was believed to predict both storms and accidents, and so children were forbidden to imitate the owl.