October 23, 2018
Harbingers of Halloween
- as seen by -Jonathan C. Slaght and Julie Larsen
With eyes that glow orange like a harvest moon, Eurasian eagle owls (Bubo bubo) rank among the world’s largest owls. These birds evoke polarizing responses in humans: across history and cultures owls are demonized or revered; persecuted or worshipped. Silent and often hidden in shadow, in North America owls have become synonymous with Halloween. Perhaps it is their plumage—with tawny and rufous tones—that reminds us of the dark barks and flaming foliage of a peak autumn forest. Or perhaps it is their association with darkness and death—they are indeed efficient nocturnal killers—that link owls with Halloween in our minds.
Given their large size, Eurasian eagle owls are tenacious predators in the wild and hunt a wide range of prey. Records include animals ranging in size from rodents to rabbits and even young deer, and birds as large as cormorants and hawks. This flexibility in their prey base—they’ll eat just about anything, anywhere—is reflected in their broad global distribution. Eurasian eagle owls are found from the boreal forests of Scandinavia south to the valleys of Israel, then across Eurasia to the subarctic Pacific coast of Russia and down to the subtropical forests of China.
Although listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are threats to eagle owls from human activity near their nesting sites as well as incidents of poisoning, road traffic, and collection of their eggs.
This six-month-old eagle owl, called Owlexis, is covered in lightweight feathers that disguise her actual body weight of just 5 ½ lbs—already twice what an average great horned owl weighs, the heaviest of North America’s owls. Still growing, Owlexis’ wingspan could reach 30 inches as an adult.
Phung Luu, Director of Animal Behavior and Conservation Connections, trains Owlexis (above) and the other birds for live bird shows by reinforcing their natural behaviors. Luu’s mission is to connect people to birds by showcasing the birds’ unique characteristics and motivate them to conservation action.