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Gigantic Owls of Far Eastern Russia

With a six-foot wingspan, Blakiston's fish owls need large trees to nest in, such as those found in old-growth forests along the banks of rivers and streams in Russia's Far Eastern region. In the normal course of their lifespan, these massive trees die off and topple over into streams, thereby disrupting the natural water flow and creating channels with fast running water and deeper, slow-moving backwaters. These varying habitats are perfect for the different developmental stages of salmon. So, not only do these enormous ancient trees provide cavities for the owls to breed in, they contribute to the river conditions needed for salmon to breed in – and salmon is the Blakiston's fish owl's preferred food source.

The Blakiston's fish owl's hunting methods have given observers the opportunity to view the bird at length as it wades through shallow rivers or perches on the river bank waiting patiently, sometimes for hours, to detect movement in the water. Its reflexes are extremely fast, and upon spotting prey it will drop into the water, catching its prey in the blink of an eye. Prey such as smaller fish and frogs may be taken to its favorite perching spot and consumed immediately, but larger prey such as large fish or waterfowl will be carried away to be eaten later.

Focusing on the nesting and foraging characteristics of the Blakiston's fish owl, a study carried out over an area of 7,804 square miles in Primorye by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Minnesota revealed that these large birds of prey are dependent on large older trees and riparian old-growth forests for their wellbeing. The conclusion of the study, published in the conservation journal Oryx, was that conservation and management of these old-growth forests are vital to the survival of this endangered bird species. Of course it is not only the Blakiston's fish owl that depends on forest conservation efforts, as the rivers and forests of Primorye are home to many other animal species, some of which are also on the IUCN of endangered or vulnerable species. These include the Siberian tiger, Asiatic black bear, wild boar, at least twelve other owl species, and eight salmon and trout species.


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