A few weeks ago, the Grand Duke couple, who rode in the Wissembourg monastery, gave birth to three babies. Extremely rare event in the city, not to mention unusual. Today, there are only two left, in good shape, in full learning, before taking their final flight to the fall.
It is the largest nocturnal bird of prey in Europe: the Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo Bubo for scholars), recognizable among thousands in its size and aristocratic profile. Since 2018, a couple has lived on the cornices of the abbey church in Wissembourg. We certainly do not turn our elbows against the Grand Dukes.
This year, the couple gave birth to three little ones, an extremely rare event in the city, emphasizes Frédérique Merck of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO).
Frédérique Merck, an amateur ornithologist, has often had her eyes in the sky for the past few weeks. Observe almost daily these feather balls, which are already not as small as that. She watches over them, watches over them. These little ones are rare but are also protected. By law as by Frederique.
In France, while all nocturnal birds of prey have been protected since 1902 as birds useful for agriculture, only the Eurasian eagle owl was excluded from this protection. These super predators, carnivores that could eat from beetle to heron, were scary in the huts.
He could not benefit from a ban hunt than in 1964. The damage had occurred. The Grand Duke had almost disappeared from Alsace in the 1940s. We had to wait for a voluntary policy from our German neighbors and regular releases so that the latter could show the wingtips there.
Today they would be 1500 couples in France, only fifty in Alsace. The eagle owl generally prefers rocks, its natural habitat. The species thus occupies the main mountain ranges and the edges of adjacent plains (Pyrenees, Massif Central, Alps, Vosges, Jurassic). Rarely the city. Except in Wissembourg. “Yes, it’s quite unusual, you can sometimes find it in disused industrial areas, but there at a church I know they are the only ones. Maybe because Wissembourg enjoys a diversity of environments that they like: fields, forests, vineyards. ”
Here in 2018, a couple of grand dukes taking up residence on the cornices of the old monastery are more accustomed to innocent pigeons than to large predators.
Impossible to go unnoticed. As we have said, the Grand Duke is the largest nocturnal bird of prey in Europe. “About two kilos, 1m80 with spread wings for the female slightly larger than the males.” On the cross, which he likes, the bird of prey sits majestically. And the ululations rub against the bells. Funny bird. And it has come to stay. Grand Dukes are faithful in love and in the home and can live for at least twenty years.
Connoisseurs have been waiting for births for a long time. The Grand Duke does not multiply every year, and hope has so far been in vain. “So far, for various reasons, we have only had clear eggs. This time, in an area inaccessible to humans, it was the right thing to do.”
The cubs, three in number, were born seven to eight weeks ago “the hard way. Among the large owls minimal comfort. No nest. The female lays on the ground without a branch without anything, three or four eggs per litter.”
The little ones that are not so small can be recognized by their down and the absence of the heron on their heads. “We can very easily see them, they are very curious. They approach the edge of the cornice, they lean, they spy on us.”
The high-flying learning phase is dangerous for little ones. It is the harsh law of nature. But all were able to count on guardian angels, the faithful of the Church. “Every time a little one was on the ground, the believers called us. We came to check on the little one’s health, and we brought him up there. They are clumsy, they fall regularly, that’s normal.”
A baby will not survive it. The broken hip he will be killed at Gorna (Wild Animal Care Center). “He must have been blown away during the storm last Friday. We found him like that, too late I think we could not do anything for him, it’s sad.”
Frédérique is confident of the future. “The two little ones fly well, they train, it’s already more convincing.” In a week or two, the little ones will know how to fly perfectly. No more cold sweats. They will be ready to leave the nest or more precisely their parents by the fall. “Unlike Moyens-Ducs, which has, let’s say, collective dormitories in the winter, the Grand Duke does not live with his family.