You don’t get to see owls very often while trekking through our mountains (the Alps), and definitely not up close. However, I’ve spent the month of November volunteering at a Wildlife Hospital, Centre régional de sauvegarde de la faune sauvage – LPO PACA, in the southern French Alps and there – amongst the injured hawks, underweight hedgehogs and many other unfortunate critters in need of health care – I got to meet some of the Alp’s most elusive birds. There were tiny Eurasian scops owls (Otus scops) and beautiful tawny owls (Strix aluco), but the most impressive of all were the Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo).
Big…and a bit scary
Eurasian eagle owls are the biggest owls of Europe, but its not only the immense size that impresses: they have an intense yellow eyed gaze and when threatened they make loud clicking sounds with their tongue. The individual in the picture was brought to the hospital with an injured wing. Of course, this nocturnal feathered patient wasn’t quite as excited to meet me as I was about meeting him, which he made very clear by ferociously clicking his tongue while staring at me without blinking once. I actually never realized how scary an owl can be! It must be unimaginably stressful for a wild animal to be in the caring hands of a human. Fortunately, this patient healed quite quickly and was released back into the wild shortly after.
Eurasian eagle-owls in the Alps
In the Alps, Eurasian eagle-owls live up to 2000 meters altitude where the birds live in couples in a territory. They prefer a habitat with limestone cliffs where they use niches for nesting and as a shelter for dozing during the day. Eagle-owls have a very varied diet and are real opportunists: in the darkness of the night they hunt for a wide range of prey, from earthworms to young foxes. However, rabbits and other small mammals seem to be their favourite meal.
Where to find owls
Although it’s hard to spot owls in the wild due to their nocturnal lifestyle, you do often hear them. Owls can make all sorts of noises: hoots, screeches, shrieks and barks. An owl’s hoot is without a doubt my most favourite wilderness sound. So be safe but keep your ears peeled when you’re out and about in the Alps while it’s dark!
Read More Alpine Critter Stories