This year the Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) was announced by ASPB to be the subject of its annual Bird of the Year 2009 campaign. The Bird of the Year campaign is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and even traditional in some countries; however in Armenia it is organized by ASPB for the first time.
The Eagle Owl is no stranger to Armenian citizens and is even more recognizable than seemingly other common birds. It is a large and powerful bird, the world's largest owl weighing up to (or more) 3 kg with a wingspan of almost two meters (150-180 cm) and is mostly crepuscular (or nocturnal). It is found in Armenia in rocky terrain from semidesert to mountain steppe. Eagle owls feed primarily on small mammals, particularly rodents such as mice and rats - thus they are of great benefit to farmers. Their extraordinary binocular vision, exceptionally sharp hearing coupled with “silent” flight and the needle-sharp talons make owls a supreme night hunter.
Our attitude towards them, however, is fairly ambiguous. In some countries Eagle owls have been a symbol of wisdom. But in old Armenian tales, owls were associated with the devil and misfortune. The bird earned its reputation because of its nocturnal activity. And what makes us so frightened of them are their great all-seeing golden eyes that stare us down; their ability to turn their head almost 180 degrees in both direction and the resonant screeching call that makes our blood run cold, especially on moonlight nights. And yet, in spite of their sinister appearance and ghostly calls, owls are magnificent and mesmerizing birds.
Eagle Owl has been selected for several reasons. Like most wildlife it is threatened by loss of habitat due to human activity; eagle owls are hunters of the dark that keep dangerous rodent populations in check; their impressive appearance and large size make them vulnerable to hunters and poachers. Very often humans hunt owls for taxidermy purposes or take baby owls for personal gain making them pets not knowing how to take proper care of them. And when a bird gets sick, it is either abandoned in the wild or taken to the zoo.
It has been decided to choose Eagle owl in order to promote understanding and awareness of their amazing behavior and unique benefit to humans, and destroy the superstitions about owls. We hope, with knowledge and understanding of their true character, these fears will be replaced by respect for these unique birds.
During this annual Eagle Owl - Bird of the Year 2009 campaign a range of various conservation actions was organized (exhibitions, contests in schools for the best drawing, poetry, etc.) where students, schoolchildren and local community participated.
Within framework of the Bird of the Year campaign contests for the best thematic presentation of the Eagle Owl were organized in schools of Metsamor river system IBA which covered villages of Apaga, Yeghegnut, Taronik, Aknalich and Zartonk. In two weeks' time, the best works of children that have been selected for exhibition were displayed in schools and the finalists were awarded the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rank prizes by ASPB. The most active participants included schools in Yeghegnut, Apaga and Taronik.
Similar competitions in schools were organized in the southern IBAs of Armenia - Meghri and Zangezur, also located on the territory of Shikahogh State Reserve where school communities joined the Bird of the Year campaign for the first time.
15 April 2009 was marked by a presentation of the Eagle Owl - Bird of the Year 2009 in Yerevan hosted by the National Museum of Nature. The event was attended by a wide school community of Yerevan city, the TV media and other invited guests.
The Bird of the Year 2009 campaign in Armenia was funded by the BMU (German Ministry for the Environment) and the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland).