The Eagle Owl
 Morris's British Birds 1891
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Eagle Owl
Image Title: Eagle Owl
Description: Eagle Owl (Bubo Ascalaphus)

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Strix Bubo, LINNAEUS. MONTAGU. Bubo maximus, SELBY. GOULD.
Strix—Some kind of Owl. Bubo—The Latin name of some kind of Owl.

'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, reddish brown.

"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.

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