Eurasian Eagle-owl

Bubo bubo

Last updated: December 30, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© LesPalenik/Shutterstock.com

The Eurasian Eagle-owl is the second largest owl in the world with a wingspan up to six feet!

Eurasian Eagle-owl Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Strigiformes
Family
Strigidae
Genus
Bubo
Scientific Name
Bubo bubo

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Eurasian Eagle-owl Conservation Status

Eurasian Eagle-owl Locations

Eurasian Eagle-owl Locations

Eurasian Eagle-owl Facts

Prey
mammals, including rodents, rabbits, hedgehogs and infant ungulates and pigs. Birds, including woodpeckers, shorebirds, and other raptors. Reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects.
Main Prey
Rodents
Name Of Young
Owlets
Group Behavior
  • Pair
Fun Fact
The Eurasian Eagle-owl is the second largest owl in the world with a wingspan up to six feet!
Estimated Population Size
100,000 to 499,999
Biggest Threat
Pesticides
Most Distinctive Feature
Prominent tufted "horns" and huge orange eyes
Distinctive Feature
Mottled brown feathers; barred wings and tail; huge wingspan; large buff-feathered feet and dark talons; large, black, hooked beak; facial disc of dense feathers not well-defined
Other Name(s)
Eagle Owl, Uhu
Temperament
Sedentary
Wingspan
4.5 to 6 feet
Incubation Period
31 to 36 days
Age Of Independence
20 to 24 weeks
Age Of Fledgling
5 to 8 weeks
Habitat
Rocky, steep terrain usually near forested areas.
Predators
None
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
  • or Nocturnal Depending on Region and Season
Favorite Food
Rodents
Common Name
Eagle Owl, Uhu
Special Features
Feathery tufted "horns"; huge orange eyes; brown heavily mottled feathers; barred wings and tail; buff-colored, feathered feet; large, dark talons; large, curved, mostly black beak
Number Of Species
1
Location
Europe, Asia and northern Africa
Average Clutch Size
2
Nesting Location
On rocky slopes in crevices, on ledges or cave entrances; sometimes in trees; sometimes in the abandoned nests of other large birds like eagles, ravens or storks; sometimes on the flat ground, particularly in high elevations in the taiga
Age of Molting
Beginning at 1 year and taking place gradually over several years

Eurasian Eagle-owl Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Dark Brown
  • Tawny
  • Beige
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
Up to 20 years or more in the wild and 60 years or more in captivity
Weight
Average 6 to 9 pounds, but some as small as 3 pounds or as big as 10 pounds or more
Length
24 to 30 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
2 years
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

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The Eurasian Eagle-owl is the second largest owl in the world with a wingspan up to six feet!

Eurasian Eagle-owls, Bubo bubo, are the type species of the Bubo genus of horned owls. They are one of more than a dozen owls with the words “eagle-owl” in their name. They are large, beautiful birds with broad, curved wings that can reach a span of more than 6 feet. Their enormous orange eyes are mesmerizing and vary in shade depending on the subspecies.

Found mainly in Europe and across Asia all the way to Japan and south to northern Africa, these owls range over more than 12 million square miles. They prefer rocky habitats near wooded areas at elevations from sea level to the high slopes of the Alps and the Himalayas, and make themselves at home in climates from the icy taiga to the edge of the desert. They are apex predators across their vast range, eating everything from rodents and lizards to small deer and antelope. Their only great threat is us.

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Incredible Eurasian Eagle-owl Facts

  • Eurasian Eagle-owls are the second largest living owl.
  • These owls suffered large losses in the 20th century due to intentional killing.
  • The scientific name of the Eurasian Eagle-owl is Bubo bubo.
  • There are currently 16 listed subspecies of Eurasian Eagle-owls. The main one is Bubo bubo bubo.
  • These owls can adjust the disc of feathers on their face to help them hear better.
  • The shade of orange of a Eurasian Eagle-owl’s eyes varies based on the subspecies.

Where to Find Eurasian Eagle-owls

The Eurasian Eagle-owl lives in Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Their range is extensive, covering more than 12 million square miles and dozens of countries. They inhabit areas from the cold, rocky coastlines of the Norwegian Sea south to Spain, Greece, and even Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. They are also found across Asia, in Russia, China, across the Himalayas, and even as far east as Japan.

Eurasian Eagle-owls often prefer rocky, mountainous areas with cliffs, crevices and caves. They may choose to live in abandoned quarries or gorges, along river valleys or coasts. In the north, from Norway to Siberia, they often inhabit the cold taiga forests. Further south, they also usually live in or near forested areas, sometimes right up to the edge of the desert. They may reside near human civilization, particularly around the water, open farmland or even landfills and dumps where they can find abundant food like rats and other rodents.

Over their expansive range, Eurasian Eagle-owls live at elevations from near sea level to high in the mountains. They manage well, even high in the Alps and the Himalayas at elevations of 14,000 to more than 15,000 feet.


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Eurasian Eagle-owl Nests

These large owls most often build their nests high on rocky cliffs or hillsides. They nest on ledges, in crevices, or in cave entrances that provide a bit of shelter. Sometimes they nest in large trees, or rarely in holes in trees, and have, on occasion, been seen using abandoned nests of large birds like eagles, buzzards or even storks. They do not build up nests, but instead lay their eggs upon naturally occurring surfaces or the materials left behind by other birds.

Scientific Name

The Eurasian Eagle-owl was originally described in 1758 by Linnaeus. He gave it the scientific name Strix bubo, with the Strix genus derived from Latin, meaning owl. By 1805, the horned owls were reassigned to the genus Bubo, with the Eurasian Eagle-owl as the type species. It was described as Bubo bubo by the French zoologist, André Duméril, who was working for the National Museum of Natural History in France.

Today there are many owls in the Bubo genus, including the familiar Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, which ranges from North America into Central and South America. Also the largest living owl in the world, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Bubo blakistoni, which lives in parts of Russia, China and Japan. The Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus, a vulnerable species native to northern latitudes, is another familiar member of the genus.

Although the Eurasian Eagle-owl is sometimes called, simply, Eagle Owl, the name is problematic. While Bubo bubo is the type species for the Bubo genus, most of the 19 currently named species within the genus are also called eagle-owls. These include the Pharaoh Eagle-owl, the Asiatic Eagle-owl, the Spotted Eagle-owl, the Philippine Eagle-owl and several more. In addition, there are currently 16 subspecies of Bubo bubo listed on the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, although classifications are subject to change as more genetic data is collected.   

Appearance

Like other members of the Bubo genus, the Eurasian Eagle-owl is a horned owl. That means it has prominent, feathery tufts on its head that resemble horns. These tufts, known as plumicorns, can be more than 3 inches long and are mostly black with a thin buff or white rim.

The owl has large, orange eyes rimmed in black with striking black pupils. They can vary from pale to dark, reddish-orange depending mainly on the subspecies. It has a facial disc of dense feathers that are light brown and speckled. Its beak is strongly curved and mostly black, with lighter feathers underneath.

This impressive bird is the second largest owl living today. Females are larger than males, and they can grow to around 30 inches in length. The average length of a Eurasian Eagle-owl is between 22 and 27 inches. They weigh between about 6 and 9 pounds on average, but some males weigh less than 3 pounds and some females have been recorded at more than 10 pounds. They are generally quite a bit larger than the Great Horned Owl, and only slightly smaller on average than the Blakiston’s Fish Owl.

Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) in flight. Note the impressive wing span and powerful talons.

©Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock.com

Feather patterns

Eurasian eagle-owls have brown feathers that are mottled with dark, vertical streaks. They have barred wing and tail feathers that are highly visible in flight. Their wingspan averages between 4.5 and 6 feet, and their wings are full and broad with serrated structures on the leading feathers typical of nocturnal owls. They molt gradually over a period of years beginning when they are about a year old. The feathers on their underside are light-colored and lightly patterned with darker streaks. Their huge feet are covered in light feathers and feature long, dark talons tipped in black.    

Eurasian Eagle-owl Behavior

One might be much more likely to hear Eurasian Eagle-owls than to spot them, thanks to their loud and booming calls. The owl is called Uhu in Germany, named after its call, that sounds like “OOH-hu” with an emphasis on the first syllable. Males have a deeper call than the females, but both are loud and can be heard from long distances. The males usually call from a high perch, allowing their voices to travel farther and helping to dissuade rivals from entering their territory.

Pairs of Eurasian Eagle-owls are very territorial. They will fight other owls that try to come into the territory they have claimed. They will defend their nests and their young from potential nest predators, but they will also abandon their nests if they are too disturbed by human activity or other threats.

Eurasian Eagle-owls are adept hunters that usually fly at night. They are most active in the hours after sunset and before dawn. Their range, however, covers a significant amount of northern territory where nights are short for part of the year. Therefore, they may be seen out hunting in the daytime as well. In other areas, if the owls are flying in the daylight it is most likely because they are being harassed and driven from their resting place by ravens or crows.

Diet

Eurasian Eagle-owls are carnivores with a wide variety of prey, depending on what is most available within their territory. They are apex predators with special adaptations that help them to hunt at night. Their large eyes are highly adapted for night vision and the facial disc of feathers helps amplify sounds. They usually hunt from a perch or on the wing, watching and listening for the movements of prey.

These owls eat all sorts of animals, particularly small rodents such as mice, voles, squirrels and rats, or slightly larger mammalian prey such as rabbits, hedgehogs and marmots. Some Eurasian Eagle-owls have killed and eaten young deer, antelope and wild piglets.

They also prey on other birds, including shore birds, woodpeckers, and even other smaller owls. Eurasian Eagle-owls will eat amphibians, reptiles, and fish and will even catch prey as small as insects.

Like other owls, the Eurasian Eagle-owl feeds its young meat torn from its prey. While females incubate the eggs and tend the nest the first few weeks after the offspring hatch, males hunt and provide food for both the female and the young.

Reproduction

Eurasian Eagle-owls are mostly monogamous and tend to mate for life. Mated pairs stick to the same general territory if possible, and often return to the same nest site year after year. Young male owls, after reaching sexual maturity around age 2, search for a mate by vocalizing. They sing their loud, deep, “OOH-hu” song from high vantage points within their chosen territory, which may cover an area up from 5 to 30 square miles. Once a female responds, courtship begins, and when she is ready she joins the male on a perch to mate.

Males choose potential nest sites but do little to nothing to improve the site other than a bit of scratching if dirt is present. Females give the final approval, then lay an average of 2 eggs, usually 1 to 4, in the nest. Incubation averages 31 to 36 days with eggs hatching in the order in which they were laid. The female incubates the eggs and stays on the nest with the hatchlings for the first few weeks. Males hunt and bring prey to the nest.

Eurasian Eagle-owl chicks or owlets emerge downy and brownish grey. Their eyes don’t open until they are a few days old, but they grow very quickly. Peek through the gallery to see a pair of young owlets in the nest. The young are able to eat whole prey after about 3 weeks. Depending on the location of the nest, they might venture out between 5 and 8 weeks, with ground-dwelling birds leaving earlier. The parents still care for them and feed them, though, even after they begin to fly. They are usually pretty independent by 20 to 24 weeks.

Nestcams

Owl nestcams are quite popular, an both live and recorded webcam footage of Eurasian Eagle-owls can be found in many places online. The German site, Uhu Webcam, hosted by the Stefan Brücher Society for the Conservation of Owls is one such resource, with archival recordings in the Highlights section of the site dating back to 2009.

Predators & Threats

Adult Eurasian Eagle-owls have no natural predators. Nestlings and young owls could fall prey to other predators, but thanks to the presence of their fiercely protective mothers and their natural camouflage, their risk is low.

Humans are the greatest danger to these beautiful owls. Intentional persecution, including shooting, poisoning, and egg collection has long been a problem, causing significant decline in the population over the 20th century. Today, unintentional deaths are a bigger risk. Pesticides used on rodents can easily poison the owls that eat them. Car strikes and collisions with power lines and fences are another serious problem. Human activity can force the birds from their familiar territory, and even cause them to abandon their nests.  

Lifespan of the Eurasian Eagle-owl

These owls have lived more than 60 years in captivity, but average only about 20 years in the wild. The oldest recorded individual reaching nearly 28 years. The Eurasian Eagle-owl is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its numbers are estimated at between 100,000 and 499,999, but they are believed to be decreasing.

Similar Animals

  • Great Horned Owl – The largest owl in North America, Bubo virginianus, fills the same ecological niche as the Eurasian Eagle-owl, but is significantly smaller.
  • Snowy Owl – The Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus, is a member of the Bubo genus. Its white feathers with dark patterns help it blend into its northern, often snow-covered habitat.
  • Blakiston’s Fish Owl – The Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Bubo blakistoni, is the largest living owl in the world, just slightly outweighing the Eurasian Eagle-owl on average.

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About the Author

Tavia discovered she had a gift for teaching when she was 21 years old. Having recently changed her major from engineering to wildlife biology, she was thrilled to take on an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She began her work excited about going into the field and saving endangered species, but soon realized she could make the biggest difference by helping to educate young people about animals, the environment and science in general. Tavia loves all animals, especially the ones that need our help the most. Over the years, she has cared for many pets, including snakes, toads, a tarantula, tree frogs, a salamander, hissing cockroaches, mice, donkeys, calves, horses, and a number of cats and dogs, but dogs are definitely her favorite! She believes that together, we can make our world a better place.

Eurasian Eagle-owl FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What does the Eurasian Eagle-owl look like?

The Eurasian Eagle-owl is a large owl with brown, mottled feathers and huge, orange eyes rimmed in black. Its beak is dark and strongly curved. It has large tufted “horns” on its head. Its wings and tail are barred, and the wings are broad and curved. The underside is lighter colored and with dark markings. The feathers on the legs and feet are buff, and the talons are large and dark with black tips.

How big is the Eurasian Eagle-owl?

Eurasian Eagle-owls can reach lengths of 30 inches, although the average is between 22 and 27 inches. They average 6 to 9 pounds, with some females reaching 10 pounds or more. They are significantly larger than Great Horned Owls.

What is the Eurasian Eagle-owl’s wingspan?

The Eurasian Eagle-owl’s wingspan averages between about 4.5 and 6 feet. The wings are broad and curved, feature barred feathers and have serrated features on the leading edges of the feathers.

How many varieties of Eurasian Eagle-owls exist?

There are currently 16 recognized subspecies of Eurasian Eagle-owls.

What makes the Eurasian Eagle-owl special?

The Eurasian Eagle-owl is the second largest living owl in the world.

Where do Eurasian Eagle-owls live?

The Eurasian Eagle-owl lives in Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Their range is extensive, covering more than 12 million square miles and dozens of countries. They inhabit areas from the cold, rocky coastlines of the Norwegian Sea south to Spain, Greece, and even Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. They are also found across Asia, in Russia, China, across the Himalayas, and even as far east as Japan.

Do Eurasian Eagle-owls migrate?

Eurasian Eagle-owls are not migratory birds. They sometimes relocate their territory, but they do not migrate north and south on a seasonal basis.

What do Eurasian Eagle-owls eat?

Eurasian Eagle-owls are carnivores that eat a variety of animals, from small mammals like rodents, rabbits and hedgehogs to larger mammals like young ungulates and piglets. They also eat amphibians, reptiles, birds, including other owls, and even insects.

How many eggs does the Eurasian Eagle-owl lay?

Eurasian Eagle-owls lay from 1 to 4 eggs, rarely more. They average 2 eggs per brood.

When do Eurasian Eagle-owls leave the nest?

Eurasian Eagle-owls usually leave the nest between 5 and 8 weeks, depending on where the nest lies. If it is on the ground, they usually leave earlier, and if it is elevated they may leave later.

How long do Eurasian Eagle-owls live?

Eurasian Eagle-owls may live more than 60 years in captivity, but average only about 20 years in the wild.

Are Eurasian Eagle-owls rare?

Although Eurasian Eagle-owls suffered losses through the 20th century, and their numbers are still declining, they considered a species of least concern but the IUCN Red List. The estimated number of Eurasian Eagle-owls across their range is between 100,000 and 499,999.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System, Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=555404#null
  2. Matthias Weger, Hermann Wagner, Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0149236
  3. Stefan Brücher Society for the Conservation of Owls, Available here: https://uhu.webcam.pixtura.de/
  4. Cascades Raptor Center, Available here: https://cascadesraptorcenter.org/birds/eurasian-eagle-owl/#size1ce5-117a

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