Gus Ben David's newest feathered friend is seven weeks old, and subsists on a diet of rats and mice.

That may not sound very appetizing, but this baby is awfully cute. Mr. Ben David, the director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, is rearing a Eurasian eagle owl.

The creature, a male, is smaller than a football but in the months ahead, its size will eclipse any owl Mr. Ben David has ever cared for: Fully grown, the bird's wing span will extend six feet.

The Eurasian owl - a gray puffball with yellowish eyes - arrived on the Island last Saturday, in a cardboard box in Mr. Ben David's car. He acquired the owl from a breeder in upstate New York.


Mr. Ben David is raising the owl for educational purposes and plans to introduce the animal to bird lovers and friends sometime this summer at the wildlife sanctuary.

The owl does not yet have a name, and Mr. Ben David is reluctant to give it one.

As a zoologist, Mr. Ben David says giving the owl a name is a bit too anthropomorphic - behavior he frowns on.

Eurasian eagle owls are not native to this continent, though they are fairly common in the eastern hemisphere, their presence extending from Spain to China, from Scandinavia through Siberia and as far south as the Middle East.

Among the largest and most powerful owls in the world, there are only a few of them in captivity in the United States.

At full maturity, a Eurasian eagle owl looks very much like the great horned owl but instead of yellow eyes, this bird will have orange eyes.

Mr. Ben David feels highly honored by the opportunity to raise this owl.

Like so many other wild animals, owls prefer not to be raised by humans. In most cases, state and federal laws protect them from being kept.

But starting with a chick makes a difference. Though the bird's talons are sharp and harmful, Mr. Ben David already has a playful relationship. The bird's beak gently nibbles on Mr. Ben David's fingers, very much like a puppy will gently chew on its owner's hand.

Getting an owl used to humans is a 24-hour a day process, seven days a week. The bird resides in the living room, in a huge box on the floor with walls that are not two feet high.

"I am raising it in the house under constant human activity," he says. When he and his wife, Debbie, are away from home, Mr. Ben David turns on radio station WMVY. When they are at home they'll also put on the television.

It's not that the bird suffers from loneliness, but Mr. Ben David is interested in training the owl to be comfortable with the presence of humans.

Familiarity is a big part of the training: radio and television offer plenty of voices.

Whenever the bird starts clicking its beak, Mr. Ben David knows it is in a nervous state. For the first days in its new home, he is concerned about trying to keep the bird calm.

Eurasian eagle owls are huge animals. Their body alone can grow to 30 inches in height. As adults, they are a serious eaters. In Europe, this breed of owl is known to hunt fox. Though the owl was in decline a century ago, efforts to repopulate the bird have successfully brought numbers back up.

Only a few of the species reside in the United States, and all are in captivity.


The arrival of a Eurasian eagle owl caps off a big year for Mr. Ben David. In addition to being the director of one of this region's most respected Massachusetts Audubon Society sanctuaries in the eastern end of the state, he is observing a tenth anniversary with his home business, World of Reptiles and Birds.

Mr. Ben David has cared for many wild animals for educational purposes including great horned owls, birds of different sizes and a host of curious snakes and turtles.

He is already caring for a 14-year-old bald eagle called Wrangler and a 23-year-old golden eagle named Chameli.

Mr. Ben David's new friend will be introduced to the community in a variety of ways. Ann Lemenager of Oak Bluffs will do a video of the bird's growth for a future program on MVTV, the Island's cable access television station.

One of Mr. Ben David's big hopes is to be able to have the bird free fly. Says Mr. Ben David: "I hope this bird will bring pleasure and fun to a lot of people."