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Neighbourhood feud over giant owl that 'attacked' dogs and a gardener

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 24, 2012

  • The wild owl, nicknamed Eyeballs, which became a regular visitor to a house in Northam, Devon

  • Eagle owls have a 6ft wing span and are the strongest species of owl in the world

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Terrified residents called in specialists to capture a huge wild bird that kept visiting a neighbour's front room – after fears it would attack pets and children.

The eagle owl – with a 6ft wingspan – has caused a row between neighbours and a police investigation over whether it was legal to remove it.

The bird, which is the world's largest and most powerful species of owl, appeared in Northam, Devon, in February.

It is thought the bird escaped from a sanctuary or was set free from cruel owners before making its home in the small rural town.

The bird began appearing in local gardens and residents nicknamed it ''Eyeballs" because of its large orange and purple eyes.

Eyeballs even became a regular visitor to one man's house – and would swoop on to his window sill then waddle around his living room.

But neighbours Sandra and Peter Morris claimed the male bird of prey had attacked their poodle, Minnie.

The couple said other local people feared the owl was so big and dangerous it could also attack children.

They added that the giant bird made them feel "trapped in their homes" and claimed it had viciously attacked a gardener.

Mr and Mrs Morris called in experts from Owls R Us who came and removed Eyeballs from the town and took him to their sanctuary in Chulmleigh.

Mr Morris, 65, said: "Minnie was in the garden and I saw the owl swoop. I got in the way to protect the dog and the bird flew into me.

''It didn't draw blood or knock me over but it was a big weight. We love the bird to bits. We have seen it in our garden since February, but it was just the risk it was posing.

''We were beginning to feel trapped in our home and it really has been a worry. We know being in a sanctuary will be the best for the bird's welfare. It has been looking so lonely."

The owl was captured in a net after specialists from Owls R Us lured it using a female bird as bait.

But the neighbour who had welcomed the owl into his home then called police to investigate whether the owl was caught legally.

The man, who did not want to be named, said: ''Eyeballs went over to have a look and I saw the guy swing a net at it.

"I saw the wings of the owl flapping – he was screeching. I could tell he was being captured.

"The net was probably a foot and a half in a triangle, it was quite small, you wouldn't have got the owl in there with its wings open put it that way.

"I was totally shocked and fearful for the owl's safety. Loads of people know of Eyeballs around here. But we have tried to keep quiet about his presence and everyone is happy with him. He isn't harming anyone.

"I used to shout for Eyeballs and he would come to the window, he was so friendly, he was like a pet cat."

Local resident Dave Wheldal, 40, said the bird drew blood from the neck of his gardener.

He said: "He tried to swoop at me but it was only because I saw the shadow coming over that I ducked in time.

''We have a 14-year-old and seven-year-old and we haven't let them out in the garden for two or three months. It has been frustrating because we have done a lot of work in our garden and we haven't been able to enjoy it.

"When I heard it had been caught, it felt like a weight had been lifted."

PC Martin Beck, a police wildlife liaison officer, confirmed an investigation was ongoing to find out if the owl had been caught legally.

A spokesman for Owls R Us would not comment while the investigation was ongoing.

Eurasian eagle owls are the largest and most powerful in the world, weighing up to 4kg. They live in mountain cliffs, ravines and rocky forests in Europe and Russia. The species became extinct in the UK in the 19th century, but some captive birds that escaped or were freed are living in the wild. They eat rabbits, hares, game birds, foxes, young roe deer, and other birds of prey.

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  • resident101  |  November 29 2012, 10:03AM

    This owl has been taken from owls r us by the RSPCA, clearly not such an absurd complaint.

  • resident101  |  November 29 2012, 9:59AM

    This owl has been removed from owls r us by the RSPCA, clearly not such an absurd complaint.

  • Owlwatch  |  November 26 2012, 11:56PM

    Having read the story, and the comments. I think the problem is that people are confusing the issue of this particular Owl with wild breeding European Owls in the UK. If the Owls are truly wild, and have not been imprinted then they should be no danger to humans. However its very clear in all cases of wildlife releases where animals can be a danger to human beings, that if an animal has been imprinted, then it should not be released as it has no fear of humans. That rule applies all over the world. The important point is the welfare of not only People Children, and Pets, but also the welfare of the Owl itself. An imprinted or habituated Animal is as much at risk from humans as they are to humans, because they leave themselves wide open to any attack. As we all know in this Country by the time different agencies, and organisations get together to sort something out, its an accident waiting to happen. The Owl has been removed from all those possibilities by a person with experience of handling this type of Bird, and is now in a place where it can be safely properly assessed as to whether it's an imprinted Bird, or not if it turns out to be wild then it can be released into an area that is a safer environment for it, if it is imprinted as it almost certainly is from its feeding habits, and the area was inhabiting, then a decision can be made on its future. That can only be good for the Owl, From the stories about this Owl, its clearly been imprinted, and has no fear of being close to humans, and expecting food from them. Whilst there have been no reports of afull on attack as yet, it will only need one, where a Baby, Toddler, or Pet is attacked, and this Owl would have then been in danger of being shot, or worse. Before anyone says that there have been no reported attacks by these Owls in the UK, one only happened as recently as September in South Shields, and this was on a 17 Yr Old. http://tinyurl.com/b5f26mx On the coast where I live Gulls will now attack people for food that they have in their hands, they have lost their fear of humans through constantly being fed. If Gulls will do it so will Owls that have been imprinted, so the lesson is already there. An imprinted Owl, isn't taught as an Owlet by its parents about what type of prey it should be going after, and that is a very dangerous thing. If any of you are any doubt about the power, and force of an attack by this type of Bird then I suggest you watch the following video http://tinyurl.com/cd2dbwa

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  • Sowester  |  November 24 2012, 9:53AM

    If the bird was perceived as a danger, better to catch it and take it to a sanctuary, rather than have it shot or poisoned by someone more inclined to direct action. What an absurd complaint.

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