'Virtually extinct' eagle owl is back in Flanders

The good folk of Leuven have something new to marvel at.  In recent days a male eagle owl has been sighted across the city, even in the busiest parts.  Eagle owls were virtually extinct in Flanders, but during the past decade and a half have steadily been gaining ground. Now the owl has been seen together with a mate!

Eagle owls occur in the wild but can also be legally kept in captivity.  Twitchers will be keen to discuss the provenance of any eagle owl sighted. Sometimes they have escaped from captivity but explains bird expert Gerald Driessens they are quickly assimilated by populations in the wild.

“When an eagle owl is seen in the city centre, it’s quite likely it escaped! In the wild they occur in areas with a lot of woodland”.

Somebody’s claimed the bird’s been fitted out with a leather strap, but this hasn’t yet been confirmed. Amateur ornithologist Jogchum Vrielink says the behaviour of the birds suggests they could belong in the wild.  “None of the birds’ flight feathers are damaged as often happens in captivity” says Vrielink.

According to Driessens Flanders today boasts up to 50 breeding pairs.  “It’s probably an underestimate.  The eagle owl is thriving in Antwerp Province, in Limburg, even in Flemish Brabant, though there are hardly any breeding pairs in East and West Flanders”.

The return of the eagle owl is being linked to the thriving of its prey: martens and fox cubs.  The birds also enjoy greater protection.  Hunting, poaching and pesticides like DDT are banned allowing the bird greater opportunities in the wild.

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