With so few resident eagle owls left alive on British shooting estates, will this be another raptor facing immanent extinction in Britain following in the footsteps of the English hen harrier? Still both sides continue to fight over whether the bird is native to our shores or not. Both sides being bird watchers and some experienced owl conservationists like Roy Dennis and Tony Warburton who support the native argument. The debate being centered on whether any eagle owl could fly across the North Sea like its smaller cousins the long and short eared owls which cross the north sea every year. The there is an even closer relative, the Snowy Owl which has recently even bred over here.
An extract from the notes of Charles St John from the book below ‘Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands‘ written around 1840, gives a description of an owl which St John felt was an eagle owl –
‘I am much inclined to think that the great eared owl Strix Bubo is also occasionally a visitor to the wildest parts of this district [Sutherland].
A man described to me a large bird which he called an eagle. The bird was sitting on a fir tree and his attention was called by to it by the grey crows uttering their cries of alarm and war. He went up to the tree and close above his head sat a great bird with large yellow eyes as bright [so he expressed it] as two brass buttons. The man stopped to pick up stones or stick and the bird dashed off the tree into the recesses of the wood and was not seen again.
St John goes on to say that ‘ I have no doubt that instead of an eagle as he supposed it to be it was the Great Strix bubo. The colour of the eyes, the situation the bird was in on the branch of a tall fir tree and it remaining quiet until the man approached so close to it must have been the great owl’. In his foot note on the same page he adds – The eagle owl is a rare visitor to the British Isles. On the same page there was a second foot note about the rose coloured pastor [now starling] showing his knowledge of birds was very wide.
Eagle owls like golden and white tailed eagles and hen harriers have no place on red grouse moors as we are made to believe by the shooting lobby, even though the income from such birds through tourism can far out weigh the financial income from shooting red grouse. Not only does it out weigh it, tourism is for 12 months of the year, not like game shooting which only lasts for a few weeks in a year. Sadly the debate regarding the origin of eagle owls within the UK will die with its death!