GREAT OWL. GREAT-EARED OWL. GREAT-HORNED OWL. GREAT-TUFTED OWL.
Strix Bubo, LINNAEUS. MONTAGU. Bubo maximus, SELBY. GOULD.
Strix—Some kind of Owl. Bubo—The Latin name of some kind
'What eyes he has!' in the words of the worthy gentleman
recorded in Mr. Scrope's 'Days and nights of salmon fishing,' who
trolled for a whole day in the vain attempt to catch a wooden pike
stuck at the bottom of a pond, and then declared to the host, who
enquired if he had caught it for dinner, that though indeed he had
not succeeded in doing so, yet that it had ' run at him several times
!' Such was his innocent belief.
The Eagle Owl, as may be inferred from its name, has much of the character
and appearance of the former bird—the Owl in fact is merged
in the Eagle.
The stronghold of this fine bird appears to be the north of Europe,
but it also occurs in many of the Pennine ranges of the south. It
inhabits Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Lapland, Germany, Switzerland,
Turkey, Hungary, Sardinia, France, and Spain. It also occurs in China,
Siberia, India, Asia Minor, Astrachan, and other parts of Asia: Meyer
says that it is found in Africa, as in fact it is, namely, in Egypt
and Algeria; and in North and South America, but though Wilson seems
to take it for granted that Pennant was right in considering the Virginian
Horned Owl of the latter continent only a variety of the species before
us, yet if that is the one meant by Meyer, I think it is distinct,
judging from Wilson's own description.
In Yorkshire, a specimen of this bird was shot in the month of March,
1845, in the woods of Clifton Castle, near Bedale, one of the most
beautifully-situated residences in the kingdom, the seat of Timothy
Hutton, Esq., late High-Sheriff, and since his death by a connection
of mine, Mr. James Pulleine; another at Horton, near Bradford, about
the year 1824; and a third was caught in a wood near Harrogate, in
the summer of 1832. One was taken in the year 1848, as I am informed
by the Rev. R. P. Alington, in the parish of Stainton Le Yale, Lincolnshire.
Others have been met with in Kent, Sussex, Devonshire, Suffolk, Oxfordshire,
and Durham; several near Melbourne in Derbyshire; one at Shardlow,
in 1828; one at Hamp-stead, near London, on the 3rd. of November,
1845, which had been previously wounded in the wing. In Norfolk one
was taken alive in the year 1853. There need, I think, be scarcely
any doubt but that some of these have been birds escaped from confinement.
In Ireland, four specimens were stated to have visited the county
of Donegal, after a great snow-storm from the north-east.
In Scotland one, in the last century, in Fifeshire; and in Aberdeenshire
one in February, 1866. In Wales, near Swansea. In the Orkney Islands
it is considered to be a permanent resident.
'Owls have been noticed,' says Bishop Stanley, 'for an extraordinary
attachment to their young; whether, however, it exceeds that of other
birds or animals may be very difficult to say, but they will certainly
visit and feed them long after they have been separated from the nest.
Some young Owls which had been so far tamed as to take food from the
hand, were observed to lose all their familiarity on being hung out
during the night, in consequence of renewed visits from the supposed
parent birds, who fed them with as much care and attention as if they
had been with them without interruption. Another instance in point
was witnessed by a Swedish gentleman, who resided several years on
a farm near a steep mountain, on the summit of which two Eagle Owls
had built their nest. One day in the month of July, a young bird having
quitted the nest was caught by the servants. This bird was, considering
the season of the year, well feathered, but the down appeared here
and there between those feathers which had not yet attained their
full growth. After it was caught it was shut in a large hen-coop,
when to his surprise on the following morning a fine young partridge
was found lying dead before the door of the coop. It was immediately
concluded that this provision had been brought there by the old Owls,
which no doubt had been making search in the night-time for their
lost young one, and such was indeed the fact, for night after night
for fourteen days was this same mark of attention repeated. The game
which the old ones carried to it consisted chiefly of young partridges;
for the most part newly killed, but sometimes a little spoiled. It
was supposed that the spoiled flesh had already been some time in
the nest of the old Owls, and that they had brought it merely because
they had no better provision at the time. The gentleman and his servant
watched several nights in order that they might observe, through a
window, when and how this supply was brought, but in vain, for it
appeared that the Owls, which are very quick-sighted, had discovered
the moment when the window was not watched, as food was found to be
placed before the coop on these very nights. In the month of August
the attention on the part of the old birds ceased, but it should be
observed that this was about the usual period when all birds of prey
abandon their young to their own exertions, and usually drive them
off to shift for themselves in distant haunts. It may be readily concluded,
from this instance, how much game must be destroyed by a pair of these
large Owls during the time they rear their young.'
The Eagle Owl is easily reconciled to confinement; and in two or more
instances has been known to breed in captivity. A pair of these birds
in the possession of Mr. Edward Fountaine, of Easton, near Norwich,
formed a nest of straw in the corner of their cage: the first egg
was laid on the 13th. of April, 1849, and two others were about a
week afterwards. Two young birds were hatched on the 19th. of May,
and the third on the 22nd: the like at Arundel Castle. Another which
was kept in the Zoological Gardens, has also been known to lay an
egg. In defence of this, it exhibited the most determined spirit,
hissing and snapping with its bill, and ruffling all its feathers.
In moving on the ground, the action of this bird is by a series of
jumps, aided by the wings: it does not walk.
The food of the Eagle Owl consists of even the larger animals, such
as fawns and lambs; hares, rabbits, rats, mice, and moles; birds,
capercailie, grouse, pheasants, partridges, crows, rooks, as also
snakes, lizards, frogs, and even insects and fish; all indeed seems
to be fish that comes to its net. It pounces its prey on the ground,
and is said to destroy life with its claws alone. The smaller prey
are swallowed whole, the larger are torn in pieces. 'From its lonely
retreat in some deep forest glen,' says Linnaeus Martin, 'some rift
among hoary rocks, where it reposes in silence during the day, this
winged marauder issues forth at night, intent upon its victims, its
harsh dismal voice resounding at intervals through the gloomy solitude
of a wild and savage scene.'
The note resembles the bark of a small dog, varied sometimes into
a 'hoot,' or 'hoo,' 'coo-hoo,' 'poo-hoo,' or 'ugh-ugh,' accompanied
by a snapping of the bill, and hissing. The female has in addition
a screech in the breeding season. The young utter a continual hissing
and piping noise.
Nidification commences the latter end of March—only one brood
is produced in the year. The female sits about five weeks. Incubation
begins in April, and the young are hatched in May.
The nest is very large, and is placed on rocks or old ruins, amid
the desolate sterility of the frayed and bleak hill or the wild unsheltered
mountain, also sometimes on trees, low down in them. It is composed
of branches and sticks, and is lined with leaves and straw. Occasionally
a hollow in the bare earth answers the purpose. The same eyrie is
frequently resorted to year after year. It is said that a southern
aspect is given preference to.
The eggs are two and three in number, white or bluish white, and like
those of all the Owls, of a rotund form, and, as described by Meyer,
of a rough chalky appearance.
Male; weight, about seven pounds; length, from about two feet to two
feet two inches; bill, dull black tinged with greyish blue, and paler
at the base: it is nearly hid at the base by the feathers. Cere, dusky,
concealed by the feathers; iris, bright orange; it is fringed around
the margin with short bristled feathers of a pale grey colour, intermixed
with brown, yellow, and black. The feathers of the head are mottled,
reddish brown or yellow, streaked and spotted, especially down the
middle, with multitudinous dark brown specks and spots: the centre
of each feather is dark, which widens at the tips, and is shaded off
and mottled at the sides. The tufts are formed of from seven or eight
to twelve dark feathers, barred with light brown on the inner webs.
They are about two inches and a half in length beyond the surface
of the rest of the plumage. The face, light brown, speckled with greyish
black and white beneath; the ruff is indistinct and incomplete, extending
only from a little above the ear to the chin. Neck, mottled brown,
but more tinged with red, and some of the feathers only spotted; nape,
the same; chin, white, a band of mottled and barred feathers—a
continuation of the ruff, between it and the throat, which is also
white, spotted with black. Breast, above, light brown, ferruginous
yellow, and greyish, streaked with dark brown waved lines more narrowly
on the lower part, and towards the sides irregularly and numerously
barred on each feather with the same, the shafts being black; back,
a mixture of dark reddish brown and yellowish.
The wings are very large, broad and rounded; they expand to the width
of about five feet one inch; underneath, they are greyish yellow,
barred and dotted with dusky brown; greater and lesser wing coverts,
reddish yellow brown. Primaries, mottled and barred transversely with
brownish black, the intervals yellowish red, margined with yellowish
brown; the outer webs spotted and waved with brown, the inner nearly
plain, the tips dark brown mingled with grey; the third is the longest,
the fourth nearly as long, the first an inch and a half shorter than
the second. Secondaries, tertiaries, and larger and lesser under wing
coverts, much barred indistinctly with dark brown, and the shafts
dark. Tail, as the primaries, but lighter, the bars on the inner webs
being narrower; underneath, it is barred still more narrowly, and
with a still lighter shade: it consists of twelve broad rounded feathers.
Tail coverts, dark reddish brown and yellowish; under tail coverts,
ferruginous yellow, irregularly marked and barred on each feather
with dark brown waved lines; legs, feathered and the same; toes, the
same; claws, dull black, tinged with greyish blue, long, much curved;
the soles of the feet are rough and of a sooty colour.
The female is a little larger and darker plumaged than the male. Weight,
about seven or eight pounds; length, about two feet four or five inches;
bill, bluish grey at the base, blackish grey at the tip; chin, white;
throat, white; the wings expand to the width of five feet eight to
five feet ten inches, and reach, when closed, over three fourths of
the tail; claws, bluish grey, blackish grey at the tips.
The young are at first covered with white down, which at about the
end of a month becomes brownish grey, and in another week or two the
feathers begin to shew themselves. The bill is black; iris, yellow;
the breast becomes rusty red, striped with dusky. Wings, dark, with
reddish brown spots; tail, dark, with round red spots; legs and toes,
"At the sullen moaning sound The ban-dogs bay and howl, And
from the turrets round Loud whoops the startled Owl."
The Lay of the Last Minstrel.