European Owls: The Nocturnal Raptors
Raptors are majestic birds that wander the skies in search of prey. Today, we want to focus on owls, the nocturnal raptors.
Nocturnal raptors such as owls have been at the center of many myths and legends over the years – some good, others less so. Owls are found on every continent in the world, except Antarctica. Of all the many recognized species of owl, 19 live in North America. Today, however, we’ll mainly be focusing on those found in Europe.
Nocturnal raptors: large owls
The Eurasian eagle-owl
Known by the scientific name Bubo bubo, the eagle-owl is the largest nocturnal raptor in Europe. It has a wingspan of up to 5 ft 9 inches, and weighs around 90 oz. They are famous for their distinctive, majestic appearance: large orange eyes, tawny plumage that grows right down to its feet, and a black beak and talons.
The Eagle-owls are sedentary birds, normally maintaining a single territory throughout their adult lives.
Nocturnal raptors – the barn owl
The barn owl (scientific name Tyto alba) is a medium-sized nocturnal raptor. They have a wingspan of roughly 3 ft, and weigh around 13 oz. They have golden plumage around the head and neck, with mottled gray and white patches across their backs, and a white stomach. Their most distinctive feature is their white heart-shaped face.
Nocturnal raptors: small European owls
The long-eared owl
Known by the scientific name Asio otus, the long-eared owl looks almost like a mini eagle-owl. Their wingspan measures just over 3 ft, and they weigh approximately 12 oz. The plumage on the body is reddish-brown in color, speckled with black vertical streaks. The facial disc is also reddish-brown, while the orange eyes are framed with small white feathers.
The long-eared owl has tufts of feathers on the top of its head, which look almost like ears.
Nocturnal raptors – the little owl
With the scientific name Athene noctua, the little owl has a wingspan of up to 24 inches and weighs a little over 7 ounces. They’re small, stocky creatures with a sweet, friendly appearance. The color of their plumage may vary, but it’s usually mottled brown and white. They have large, yellow eyes, which are framed by white “eyebrows”, giving them a slightly stern expression.
Known by the scientific name Strix Aluco, these stocky birds are roughly the same size as a common crow. They can weigh up to 25 oz, with short, rounded wings measuring 3 ft 2 inches on average. Brown, reddish or gray in color, they have mottled black and white plumage across their body. Their face is pale gray, which contrasts with their black eyes.
These owls are characterized by their powerful talons, which seem out of proportion with their small stature.
Nocturnal raptors – the Eurasian scops owl
With the scientific name Otus scops, the Eurasian scops owl is one of the smallest nocturnal birds in Europe. Its wingspan measures no more than 20 inches, and they can weigh as little as 5 oz. They have small ear tufts that frame their face, and large yellowy-orange eyes. The feathers across their back are a golden color, while those on the chest and stomach are usually pale gray.
Despite their small size, these agile owls are migratory birds and skilled hunters.
Also known by their scientific name Asio flammeus, the short-eared owl weighs around 10 oz and has a wingspan of roughly 40 inches. They have a similar plumage to the long-eared owl, with yellow spots on the tips of their wings, and mottled tawny feathering on the face. Their eyes are bright yellow, and framed by a ring of black feathers.
This is a rather curious species that’s often active during the day.
Tengmalm’s owl – one of the least known species in the world
Also known as the boreal owl, these small birds have the scientific name Aegolius funereus. They have a wingspan of around 23 inches, and weigh no more than 7 oz on average. They come in a huge variety of different colors, ranging from red to grayish tones. Their wings and backs are often a light, chocolate brown color with bright white markings, while their eyes and beaks are yellow.