The Eagle Owl (Oscar) was roosting in a tree close to the biology department of Bristol University (wise Owl). Almost on cue around dusk, he flew to the Archaeological building and then began calling. Now this was amazing, as he sat proud on top of a chimney lowered his back raised his tail high and blasted out his double noted low toned call across Bristol "Hoo Huu". This continued for a while. What I had established in this time was that he looked like, and was coloured like the nominate race of Eagle Owl, therefore (Bubo bubo bubo) Northern European race, also he was indeed male, and the fact he was displaying so prominently should mean he was feeding well, and was now trying to attract a passing female. For me this is were it gets sad. I'm supposed to give a balanced view, however I could not help thinking as this King of the night hunters was booming out its call, and there was no reply, of course there was not going to be a reply. This Eagle Owl was alone, yet with a whole city protecting him, and even with university students studying him. I need to be careful here of course, because as I said during the interview never try and predict anything, for all I know a female is now making her way to him.
Bristol University students have collected and looked at his pellets (regurgitated, indigestible prey remains) and also backed up with some photographic evidence of what he is eating, such as Brown Rats, and I bet he is also eating Grey Squirrels as they were everywhere within his easy reach, also plenty of feral Pigeons.
The ace cameraman for the BBC was Richard Taylor-Jones, have a look at Richards brilliant Blog http://www.thewildernesscity.blogspot.com/ Richard seemed proud to be using some infrared gear to capture the night shots of Oscar, this gear on loan from the big cat diary team. This is the picture I took of the Camera (above), indeed it gave some stunning insights into this Eagle Owls nocturnal activity's. The picture below is of the monitor view that Mike Dilger and myself were looking into.
Oscar on the BBC Monitor
There are still many un-answered questions relating to Oscar, but I'm certain that he is of captive origin and not from a wild bred British nest. Sadly there are those creating an air of myth surrounding this bird. Eagle Owls because of their size are capable of much, yet often the myths that surround them can over take the facts.
Once again I talked this through via e mail to my good friend in Sweden Alar Broberg who has had 20 years experience with this species in the wild. I especially focused on questions surrounding diet and the fact of what appears to be the big issue here in the UK, and that is Eagle Owl catching Cats and Dogs. With Alars permission here is his answers.
The basic food for Eagle owls is rodents and birds to size of a crow.
An eagle owl is a lazy- bird, and will catch the most common food resource that will not fight back too much, it does’t want to get injured. 5 rats are better than one crow.
Some examples of different nesting areas, rubbish dump owls; basically rodents and a very few gulls, owls in the archipelago; gulls, eiders and other waterfowl, owls on the main land ;crows, rodents, mallards.
We radio tracked one male in Stockholm for 6 months. We observed him for about 400 hours, during night time. This male nested and had his territory in Stockholm city.
All kills except one was rodents. The non rodent was possibly a Jackdaw. He could kill and eat up to 5 rodents/moles during 1 hour.
In the nest we found hares, mallards, crows and gulls. They must have been caught by the female.
A full grown hare is too heavy for an Eagle owl to carry during flight. So they are usually cut in pieces.
When the male hunted on a huge open area, where there were often dogs in the area. We could not observe any attack on a dog. On one occasion the male was on the ground and one dog owner told us to keep our dog in a leash. We told her that it is an Eagle owl, so when her dog came to close the male he took off and the owner believed us.
I know of two or three cats that have been attacked by Eagle owls in Sweden (we have approx 800 pairs), all cats where to big for the owl. I assume the owl made a miscalculation in the size of the cat and basically scratched it.
I also know about one dog, but I have also seen common buzzard strike a dog.
Having a dog close to a nesting site will in at least 60% of all case create an attack. The owls prefer to strike on the smaller dog instead of the human. This is pretty common and therefore no dogs are allowed when we are ringing owlets. I have no information of a dog kill in those situations, usually some small scratches.
I can not promise that no attack on dog or cat can happen, but if it happens it’s most likely that that the owl is trying to scare it away from a nesting site.
You should always be careful with big birds with huge talons.
I met Alar In Sweden when we were making the BBC Radio 4 series Owl Prowl and Planet Earth Under Threat, one of the programmes focused on Eagle Owl. Alar took us to one of the Eagle Owl nest sites to ring/band the owlets. Though we were in the nest and handling the 2 young Eagle owlets the parents watched us, but did not defend their owlets as I thought they might. We were issued with protective sunglasses just in case, and yes the adults were close by, and giving alarm calls, but that was it.
Proud moment, me with wild Eagle owlet in Sweden
Picture taken by Tom Arnbom, also with thanks to Alar Broberg and BBC NHU Radio
I was asked and have been e mailed about the future for Oscar. This would be impossible to answer. Though at present he seems to have his regular behaviour, however should his prey status change then it might force a change in his behaviour and maybe his location. But with so many good people looking out for him I do feel sure he is in safe hands with the people of Bristol, and observations of any changes will be forwarded.
And lastly. There are those within conservation that keep complaining about Eagle Owls being liberated from captivity. Yet they are the ones that if they really want to see this brought to heel, could be influencing DEFRA to have all keeping of Eagle Owls and therefore the captive bred offspring as well, registered with DEFRA. Meaning that every Eagle Owl bred or simply kept would be known to DEFRA, and further more every Eagle Owl in captivity should be rung with a DEFRA issued ring. This would stop the doubt about where these Owls come from when they are found in the wild. W ith regard to this idea, it is achievable, probably not priority, because of financing. It is thought that between 3000 and 4000 individual Eagle Owls are kept in captivity in the UK. Remember that's only a guess as this is not a registrable species, so no one really knows. Also don't forget that even if we believe the aforementioned number then a proportion of that number are in pairs and being bred, so the number is going up! In theory
With so many people going to see Oscar and becoming enthused by him, then let us conservationists never forget that this bird has turned a lot of ordinary people into thinking about natural history and its conservation in the City of Bristol. Well done Oscar!
Once again with regards to this blog entry on Eagle Owls, these thoughts and opinions are my own and do not in any way represent the view of any organisation I work for, or am Patron, or Trustee of.