One of the world’s heaviest owls, Eurasian eagle-owls are apex predators. They hunt at night using their acute hearing to locate prey. The feathers around the head and face form a disk that directs sound to their ears. Ears are placed higher on one side of the head than the other to allow the owl to pinpoint a prey’s exact location. Large orange eyes provide excellent night vision. Like other owls, they can rotate their heads almost 270 degrees for an extremely wide field of vision. Owls can fly silently. A downy fringe on their flight feathers muffles any sound, allowing them to detect the slightest squeak or rustle of leaves while on the wing. They swoop down with their talons extended to catch birds in flight or rodents on the ground.
Eagle-owls communicate with a variety of loud hoots, whistles, barks, and beak snaps. During the day they roost high in trees. Their cryptic coloration enables them to blend in with the tree bark. Their long ear tufts are thought to provide camouflage by resembling a broken branch. Ear tufts do not enhance the bird’s hearing, but they do indicate an owl’s mood, erect when they are alarmed or excited, and lying flat when relaxed.
These owls occupy a huge range across most of Europe and Asia. They are found in deserts, woodland hills, and rocky montane regions.
Like all raptors, these owls are carnivores. They feed on rats, hares, mice, foxes, and even small deer. Eagle-owls are very effective at controlling rodent populations. Like many birds, they regurgitate the undigestible parts of their prey (hair, feathers, and bones) in a compact pellet or casting—though owl pellets are generally larger than those of other raptors because they tend to consume their prey whole. This allows scientists to make more detailed studies of their diet.
Eagle owls are up to 2.5 feet long and weigh 3–10 pounds. Their wingspan is 4.5–6 feet. Females are larger than males. Lifespan is up to 20 years in the wild. In human care, they may live 60 years. The Siberian eagle owl is a subspecies that is lighter in color and found in the mountains of Russia and Kazakhstan.