Eyes as big as half dollars and as yellow-orange as a harvest moon stare straight into yours, the intense gaze of the apex predator creeping into your soul…or at least that’s how some may feel. The long look a Eurasian Eagle Owl can give you is not one you’ll soon forget.
These owls are native to Europe and Asia, and are among the biggest in the entire world – they can reportedly boast a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan! Within this impressive wingspan are serrated (like the teeth on a knife) wing feathers that enable the owl to glide almost silently through the night, stalking its prey – unbeknownst – from the sky.
“It’s a really cool adaptation,” says Bird and Mammal Trainer Jessica Brown, “Also the soft, downy feathers underneath help absorb sound and any turbulence they encounter in the air, making them even quieter.”
Eurasian Eagle Owls hunt using their silent flight, keen eyesight, and impeccable hearing. Brown says that like other species of owl, eagle owls have facial disks, or groups of feathers around their ears, that actually direct sounds toward their ears. Owls can raise these feathers slightly when on the hunt, enabling them to hear the rustle of a mouse in the grass, the flapping of feathers in the night, or the slithering of a snake in a tree branch. These sounds give away the location of prey animals, making it easy for these owls to swiftly swoop in to catch a meal – and their pointed, powerful talons can exert 500 pounds of PSI (pressure per inch)! Compared to the human hand’s 30 lbs of PSI, that’s scarily strong. “They normally hunt rodents like rabbits and rats, but they’ll also eat other raptors, and they can even take down small deer,” explains Brown.
The scariest thing about this creature, however, is its history. During the first half of the 20th century, Eurasian Eagle Owl numbers declined radically as humans over-hunted and nearly poisoned the whole population. Local European governments began increasing protective measures regarding the owls, and they are now back to a healthier number, though not as populous as they once were.
TSA’s resident Eurasian Eagle Owl, Brutus, will be one featured creature you can meet at Green Halloween this Saturday!