Animals that come and go at Casa Lauretana

The Short-toed Snake-eagle (lat. circaetus gallicus)

A younger snake-eagle

Species and food

Actually, short-toed eagles are migratory birds with wintering grounds in Africa – here with us, however, our entire family of the short-toed eagles can be seen all year round!

They belong to the genus of hawks, despite their size they are very good flyers and they have excellent developed eyes.

At noon we can see the short-toed Snake-eagle hovering on the wind, above the Casa Lauretana, taking advantage of the so called „thermals“ ( columns of warmer winds ) to perform wing-beats without expending much energy. It rises up, glides down over and over stepping across the land. Once the prey is located, it flies down onto the snake with a short hover. 

In summer, their food consists of snakes of variable sizes (but up to 1,50 to 1,80 metre of length) and lizards, as in the cooler seasons, Snake-eagles also hunt for small birds and small mammals. Sometimes the snake eagle is on foot, then it is content with frogs, worms or snails.

Appearance

The ventral and thoracic areas (males and females) are of a light uniform coloration, while the white underside of the snake eagle has irregular banding. Its tail feathers are darker. The thick round dark brown head and dark neck are particularly striking. 

Other features include its yellow eyes and the powerful bill and legs common to all eagles. Because of their appearance, Snake eagles are often confused with buzzards, although buzzards are much smaller.

This is a buzzard

Biometrics

These eagles measures about 60-70 cm and it has a wingspan of 160-180 cm. As a rule, the female is larger and heavier than the male. Young birds can be recognized in flight by the fact that their underpart is lighter and much less cross-banded than can be seen at adults. Also their head is lighter.

Weight: Short-toed male eagles usually weigh between 1100 g and 2000 g, the female reaches 2300 g.

Habitat

This predator likes sunny mountain ranges, cultivated landscapes, and semi-deserts. It nests in coniferous and deciduous wooled areas. When hunting, it is seen in plains or mountains, in areas with stony surfaces, pastures and scrubs.

Courtship

The courtship of local Snake-eagles begins in January already and it can last until March. You can recognize this period as the raptors communicate by short whistles, they sound like a “jiii” or a „kio“. Also in in courtship male Snake-eagles like to deliver bridal gifts to the female.

Breeding behavior and rearing of the young bird

Still in winter, our the short-toed eagles living here in Umbria start building their nest together (with brushwood and twigs). The nest, after the female has laid a single large white egg, is constantly “renovated” and decorated with green leaves and brushwood during the 6 week breeding season. During the first weeks the female incubates the egg, later the male also helps out. While nesting (75 days), the chick is fed by the female eagle, later also by the male. Even after the young bird has left the nest, it is still fed by the parents for quite a while. It is able kill its first snake himself at the age of 2 weeks.

Enemies

Unfortunately man is the greatest enemy of the short-toed Snake-eagle. Other enemies are the peregrine falcon, the eagle owl and some more eagle species. But also corvids are to be mentioned. We actually sometimes can observe real fights between ravens and Snake-eagles, as ravens often breed in the territory of the short-toed eagle.


The Scops Owl (lat. (lat. Otus scops)

A Scops owl

Genus and appearance

These owls are very small, they have feathery ears that appear long in relation to the rest of the body. Scops owls can put their ears all the way back, in which case the head appears round.

Their plumage is dark-coloured, rusty brown to light grey, making the owl optimally camouflaged and almost impossible to spot. The iris of the eyes is lemon yellow.

Some Scops Owls fly as far as Africa in winter, others also hibernate in warmer countries such as Italy, Greece, etc.

When afraid, this owl becomes very slim, with ear-tufts erected straight.

Unfortunately the Scops Owl is threatened with extinction.

Food

This owl prefers insects such as crickets, night butterflies, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles, but also earthworms, spiders and isopods. Frogs, small mammals and small birds are rarely on the menu. 

Size and weight

A Scops Owl usually grows to about 20 cm long and weighs around 75-95 grams (females are heavier than males), its wingspan measures about 53-63 mm.

Sound

Around Casa Lauretana, the metronome-monotonous characteristic territorial song can be heard for several months, it sounds like a strong “Tiu”. Males sometimes sing all night. During courtship, the male and female duet seems a two syllable song of higher and lower pitched notes – a lovely evening concert!

Habitat

These owls like to stay in warm and dry areas, preferring open country or semi-open landscapes with trees, but they can be found as well in rocky landscapes, parks, avenues of trees along roads, gardens with mature trees or in mountainous regions. They do not occur in dense forests. 

This raptor usually starts hunting shortly after sunset, except for a 1-2 hour interruption it lasts the whole night.

The Eurasian Scops Owl is a nocturnal bird, most active from after sunset to midnight. By day it roosts in trees, normally close to the trunk, or in dense foliage, cavities in mature trees or rocks, holes in walls and similar places.

Occurrence

This owl species is widespread in the Mediterranean countries, Northwest Africa, Southeast Europe, Central Asia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan as well as in Romania, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland.

Breeding behaviour

Through the breeding season Scops Owls are monogamous with pair bonds, but for the rest of the year, they are otherwise solitary.

The female owl lays about 3-5 eggs from mid-May to mid-June, preferably in cavities of deciduous trees, but if necessary also in nest boxes or in empty bird nests. While the female incubates the eggs – which takes 24 days on average – the male owl provides it with food. When the young owls have hatched, the mama owl stays in the cave for the first two weeks and only then goes hunting again too. The parents take care of the young for about 60 days.


The Hoopoe

A hungry Hoopoe

Appearance

Because of its its punk-like crown (which it only raises when landing) and its colourful appearance the Hoopoe is a real eye-catcher.

Being still relatively widespread in Umbria, this bird is considered an individualist. It has a dark, 6 cm long bill, its head and neck are coloured orange-brown, and its parietal feathers are also orange-brown, but their tips are black. The back of this colourful bird as well as its broad wings are fanned in black and white, and its tail feathers are black.

With a size of about 28 cm, it is insignificantly larger than the great spotted woodpecker.

Food

Larger insects such as crickets, grubs, beetles and grasshoppers are at the top of its menu. But it also picks spiders, lizards, woodlice and small frogs out of the ground with its long beak. It always wags its head when doing so.

Behaviour

It is considered a ground-breeder and uses, among other places, cairns, low cavities in trees, woodpecker cavities, niches, crevices in walls and nesting boxes. It does not make a big fuss about its nest, sometimes it even contents itself with a simple small hollow in which the eggs are laid.

The perfect nest for the little ones

Habitat

The Upupa loves open, warm landscapes, including vineyards and olive plantations – so Casa Lauretana is just fine.

Migration

In late summer, the Hoopoe migrates to Africa not sparing any long distance. It usually flies alone, and often at night. 

At the beginning of March it returns to Italy.

Voice

The male’s mating call is a three-syllable “upupup”.

A curiosity

Parrano is an Italian village  in the province of Terni in southern Umbria, it has less than 500 inhabitants, a small (inaccessible) castle and a little spa just outside town.

The term Parranum, with the variants Poranum and Paranum, is of Roman origin and means „Hoopoe”.

If you travel to this small village, perhaps on the way to Orvieto, you will see some Hoopoes on the way when getting closer.

Unfortunately, the Hoopoe is threatened with extinction in Italy.