Lock up your pets… eagle owl on the loose

The Scotsman – Scotland – Lock up your pets… eagle owl on the loose

With vivid orange eyes and 5ft wingspan, Eagle owls are easy to identify. But police have warned the public not to approach the predator.
Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Scotsman
Wed 12 Apr 2006

Lock up your pets… eagle owl on the loose

PET owners were yesterday warned to keep their animals indoors, after one of the largest predatory owls in the world escaped from captivity.

A European eagle owl – which stands 3ft tall and has a 5ft wingspan and 4in talons – escaped from a garden near Linlithgow, West Lothian, on Monday night and has not been seen since.

The owl has not eaten for two days, and police have advised residents to keep cats and dogs indoors. They have warned that an attack on an infant is also a possibility.

The owl, named Fergus, has been known to target pets in the past and has attacked Staffordshire bull terriers while exercising, its owner said.

Eagle owls are capable of carrying away cats, dogs and other small pets. Earlier this year, an escaped eagle owl in Norfolk attacked five dogs over a fortnight before being captured.

A West Lothian Police source said yesterday: “We can’t rule anything out here. It has not eaten for a couple of days. Parents should be careful, as it is not an impossibility that it may swoop on small children and prams.”

The pet escaped from the garden of Chris Imlach, 34, who said the bird belonged to his 14-year-old son.

He said: “I was just getting him ready for flying, and he was tethered to his post in the garden. But when I came back he was gone.

“I have been out looking ever since. I want to find him as soon as possible because I don’t want people coming to me saying he has tried to kill their dogs or cats.

“He’s picked up one of my Staffordshire bull terriers while we’ve been out before, which shows you the strength of these owls.

“If anyone sees him, they should not approach him – just keep an eye on him and call the police.”

Eagle owl owners usually register their birds with the Independent Bird Register. Although they have not occurred naturally in Britain since the last ice age, they have grown in popularity as pets in recent years, with more than 2,000 birds registered between 1998 and 2003.

A spokesman for the registry said the bird was unlikely to perch in trees, preferring cliff ledges, quarry faces and the tops of deep valleys.

He said: “The bird is hand-tame. It’s possible it will fly at a person, but if it does it is almost surely because it’s been trained to do so and it believes it can land on the person. The idea that it might attack a human is rubbish.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said: “There have been quite a few escaped eagle owls in the past 18 months.

“The bird is brown with a white chest and has prominent ear tufts and vivid orange eyes, so it should be easy to identify.”

A police spokeswoman said: “We would appeal to anyone who sees this distinctive bird of prey to contact police straight away.

“It should not be approached by members of the public and people should not attempt to catch it themselves.”

Powerful predator
• The eagle owl, Bubo bubo, is one of the most powerful raptors.

• Eagle owls make a distinctive sound and bark or growl if threatened.

• Those wild in Britain are thought to have escaped from zoos and private collectors because they were hunted to extinction in the late 1800s.

• There are pairs known to be breeding in the Highlands and the Yorkshire moors.

• The eagle owl is the Malfoy family bird – Harry Potter’s arch enemy.

Last updated: 12-Apr-06 10:32 BST


©2006 Scotsman.com

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