The Giant Eagle Owl (Bubo Lacteus) is also called Verreaux’s Eagle Owl or the Milky Eagle Owl. It is one of the largest owl species in the world and is mostly found on the African continent, in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and northern South Africa. They are also found further North in Ethiopia and Somalia, and in Western Africa in Cameroon, Mali and Senegal.

They are found in dry savanna habitat that has scattered trees and thorny shrubs. They can also be found in the riverine forest near savanna or in semi-open woods. They do not occur in dense forest or bare desert.

This large owl, can be up to 65cm in head-body length with an average wingspan of 140cm. The females are generally larger than the males and a female can weigh up to 3.1kg, while the male can weigh up to 1.9kg. These owls have very distinctive pink upper eyelids and have a grey-ish brown plumage. Underparts and flight feathers are barred and the facial disk is pale rimmed with black.

Giant Eagle Owls are effective nocturnal hunters that can carry off prey as large as 1.8kg. They are generalist hunters and will eat anything from insects, to fish, to other birds and small mammals. They mostly hunt by gliding from a perch, but will also catch insects and birds in-flight and will wade into water to catch fish.

Breeding season lasts from May to October, depending on specific localities and normally peaks between June and September. The monogamous breeding pairs will use large stick nests that have been abandoned by other birds such as the hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) and the secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius). Although two eggs are usually laid, it is rare for both chicks to survive as the parents will only feed the one that hatches first, leaving the other to starve. After about nine weeks the chick will leave the nest, but will remain dependant on its parents until it is six months old and may even stay with its parents until the age of two years old.

This owl species is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN red list because it has such a large range and it is such an adaptable species. It can live in various habitats and eat different prey species. Nevertheless, in West Africa it is uncommon and populations are highly fragmented. This does make the species vulnerable to disease and drought from which they may be slow to recover because of their slow reproductive rate. The species was formerly found in Lesotho, but is now extinct in this region. This owl is susceptible to decline through hunting and trapping.

Article written by Marike Kotzé. Marike has a MSc in Genetics from the University in Stellenbosch and a certificate in Science Writing.