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Turkmenian Eagle Owl

Bubo bubo turcomanus

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

The Turkmenian eagle owl is a sub species of the Eurasian eagle owl. They are one of the largest species of owl in the world, and have a distinctive appearance with prominent ‘ear tufts’ on the tops of their heads which all members of the eagle owl family have. This sub species originated from Turkmenistan, although they are now extinct in that range and are instead found throughout parts of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.

Here at Woburn we have both a male and female Turkmenian eagle owl. Dusky, our female, likes to make her own way out into the arena, we’re never sure if she’s going to fly out or walk out. She loves to glide low over the audience during our demonstrations. Donald, our male, likes to fly with Dusky, but he does think she is a bit of a show off.

Distribution
Russia, Kazakhstan and Western Mongolia.
Habitat
Rocky areas, river valleys, open forest and semi-desert regions
Height
56 - 75cm in length
Weight
1.75 - 4.2kg
Lifespan
Wild up to 20 years, in captivity up to 60 years
Threats
Traffic accidents, electrocution, shooting

Physical Features

The eagle owl family contains some of the largest owls in the world, the Turkmenian eagle owl is one of the larger members of this family, with some weighing up to 4.2kg, and measuring up to 75cm in length.

There are regional variations in colour but generally they are a tawny or buffy-brown colouration, with paler under parts. They can be mottled or streaked with black, have dark barring on their belly, wings and tail. There is a large white patch on the throat, which is used for communication.

As with all members of the eagle owl family the head features two prominent tufts of feathers, known as the ‘ear tufts’. These tufts have nothing to do with hearing, and their purpose is still not known, however several theories for them exist. A common idea is that they exist to break up the animal’s outline, especially when roosting in a tree, mimicking a broken branch. Others suggest they are to help other owls distinguish each other from other species, or that they are to make them look more threatening to other owls and predators. They can be used to gauge the mood of an owl, as when they are threatened aggressive they will flatten them to their head, and when they are calm and alert they will put them upright.

The eagle owl uses its feet to catch its prey, with a crushing force of around 360ppi of pressure, they can crush the skull of a fox with one foot. Each toe is strong, and features a long sharp talon.  The legs and feet are feathered.

The wings of an owl are finely serrated so that they can fly silently. This is to allow the owl to approach its prey silently without it hearing it first, and so that they owl itself can hear its prey over its own sounds.

The eyes of owls are adapted to be like a pair of binoculars. They are fixed in place, allowing for detailed long distance vision for hunting, but this does mean their close range vision is very poor.  To look around the owl has to move its entire head, it is a common myth that they can turn their head all the way around, it actually only rotates around 270 degrees horizontally, and around 90 degrees vertically. To be able to do this the owl has extra bones in their neck. Most vertebrates, including us, only have 7 vertebrae in their neck, whereas an owl has 14.

To cope with the lack of short range vision they have a group of sensitive feathers, called crines, around their beak. These sensitive feathers are used to locate dead prey.

Owls have very sensitive hearing, used to locate prey either hidden under snow or other coverings, or to hunt in the dark. Owl’s ears are holes hidden beneath the feathers, one further up than the other, allowing the owl to pinpoint the location of a sound. This ability lets them build a sort of sound map and locate prey, often in complete darkness, by sound alone. The feathers of an owl’s face help with this hearing, by forming a facial disk, a disk of feathers used like a satellite dish to help point any sound towards these ears.

Diet and Hunting Behaviour

Eagle owls are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn.  They will usually hunt from an open branch or perch, using a fast powerful flight to swoop down on prey, and are capable of taking birds in flight. They will often search rock crevices and nest sites for roosting birds and young birds in nests. The strong feet and talons are used to kill the prey, although occasionally the beak can be used to crush the head of smaller prey. Depending on the size of the prey item they will swallow it whole, or if larger tear it apart with the beak. Owls produce a pellet, a small package of all the parts of their food they cannot digest, such as the bones and fur or feathers.

Their diet consists of mammals, from small rodents to mammals up to the size of large hares, and even foxes and small deer. They will also take birds, including other owls, and occasionally amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects.

The wings of an owl are finely serrated so that they can fly silently. This is to allow the owl to approach its prey silently without it hearing it first, and so that they owl itself can hear its prey over its own sounds.

Communication

The eagle owl uses a range of communication. The distinctive vocal call of this species is a deep booming ‘ooo-hu’ call, both male and female will make this call, but the female will be higher pitched than the male. They will also use several other calls including quiet guttural chuckling, and the female will make a bark-like scream. When threatened or active aggressively they will make a loud clicking noise with their beak. Calling can be territorial, threatening, or used during courtship.

When performing a threat display they will puff up their feathers, hold their wings up behind them, and try to appear as large as possible.

There is a white patch on the throat, which is exposed when the bird calls, this is thought to enhance communication during darker times, allowing others to recognise calling individuals by the throat patches.

Breeding

This species usually nests on cliff faces, in cave entrances, or crevices. Often they will take over the nest of a large Raven, or golden eagle. If no suitable nest sites are available they will also nest on the ground between rocks, under bushes, under fallen trees, or at the base of trees.

Breeding occurs usually around late winter, with the male will finding a suitable nest site and scratching out a shallow scrape, he will then begin to call to attract the female.

 Eagle owls are monogamous, meaning they pair for life, and will often return to the same nest site for several years.

The female lays between one and five eggs, which she will then incubate for 34 to 36 days. The male will bring her food to the nest during this time. Female owls are generally a third larger than the male, so that they have the extra energy to incubate the eggs and can survive this period.

Once the eggs have hatched the young will stay in the nest being fed by the parents until around 7 weeks old, when they will learn to fly. Once they have fledged they will still rely on the parents for a further three to four months, and won’t leave the nest and disperse until around 170 days old.

The Eurasian eagle owl reaches sexual maturity at around one year, and can live up to 20 years in the wild, or up to 60 years in captivity.

Husbandry

All of our birds of prey are flown daily. This has many benefits to the animal. Firstly it allows the animal to exercise, keeping them fit, and developing flying muscles. It also allows them to perform their natural behaviours, for some of our birds of prey this may include various hunting techniques such as catching prey mid-flight, and chasing down ground prey, or killing a (rubber) snake.

Each bird has a varied diet, just as it would in the wild, mimicking the varying nutritional properties of each food type and the quantities.

Threats and Conservation

The Turkmenian eagle owl is not a threatened species, but it is uncommon throughout its range, as is the Eurasian eagle owl family as a whole. However this sub species originated in Turkmenistan, where it is now locally extinct, instead thriving in other regions. Numbers of Eurasian eagle owls have declined over the 20th century, and although more stable now, are not as high as they previously were.

There are no natural predators for the Turkmenian eagle owl, it is considered an ‘apex species’, meaning it is at the top of the food chain. There are however several threats caused to them by humans. Accidental electrocution on power lines and traffic accidents cause a large number of deaths, as does illegal shooting.  They are thought to be very sensitive to disturbance, abandoning eggs and young chicks in nests if disturbed, and are affected by deforestation and habitat disturbance.

They are listed as appendix II of CITES, which means the trade and export of this species is heavily regulated and controlled to protect them.

Fun Facts

Members of the eagle owl family have small tufts of feathers on the tops of their heads called ‘ear tufts’, these are nothing to do with their hearing but are actually more like mood indicators!

Owls eyes are like a pair of binoculars, their fixed lenses give them fantastic long distance vision, but very poor short distance vision!
 
Roughly around 75% of an owl’s body weight is just their feathers!