Neighbourhood feud over giant owl that 'attacked' dogs and a gardener
Terrified residents called in specialists to capture a huge wild bird that kept visiting a neighbour's front room – after fears it would attack pets and children.
The eagle owl – with a 6ft wingspan – has caused a row between neighbours and a police investigation over whether it was legal to remove it.
The bird, which is the world's largest and most powerful species of owl, appeared in Northam, Devon, in February.
It is thought the bird escaped from a sanctuary or was set free from cruel owners before making its home in the small rural town.
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The bird began appearing in local gardens and residents nicknamed it ''Eyeballs" because of its large orange and purple eyes.
Eyeballs even became a regular visitor to one man's house – and would swoop on to his window sill then waddle around his living room.
But neighbours Sandra and Peter Morris claimed the male bird of prey had attacked their poodle, Minnie.
The couple said other local people feared the owl was so big and dangerous it could also attack children.
They added that the giant bird made them feel "trapped in their homes" and claimed it had viciously attacked a gardener.
Mr and Mrs Morris called in experts from Owls R Us who came and removed Eyeballs from the town and took him to their sanctuary in Chulmleigh.
Mr Morris, 65, said: "Minnie was in the garden and I saw the owl swoop. I got in the way to protect the dog and the bird flew into me.
''It didn't draw blood or knock me over but it was a big weight. We love the bird to bits. We have seen it in our garden since February, but it was just the risk it was posing.
''We were beginning to feel trapped in our home and it really has been a worry. We know being in a sanctuary will be the best for the bird's welfare. It has been looking so lonely."
The owl was captured in a net after specialists from Owls R Us lured it using a female bird as bait.
But the neighbour who had welcomed the owl into his home then called police to investigate whether the owl was caught legally.
The man, who did not want to be named, said: ''Eyeballs went over to have a look and I saw the guy swing a net at it.
"I saw the wings of the owl flapping – he was screeching. I could tell he was being captured.
"The net was probably a foot and a half in a triangle, it was quite small, you wouldn't have got the owl in there with its wings open put it that way.
"I was totally shocked and fearful for the owl's safety. Loads of people know of Eyeballs around here. But we have tried to keep quiet about his presence and everyone is happy with him. He isn't harming anyone.
"I used to shout for Eyeballs and he would come to the window, he was so friendly, he was like a pet cat."
Local resident Dave Wheldal, 40, said the bird drew blood from the neck of his gardener.
He said: "He tried to swoop at me but it was only because I saw the shadow coming over that I ducked in time.
''We have a 14-year-old and seven-year-old and we haven't let them out in the garden for two or three months. It has been frustrating because we have done a lot of work in our garden and we haven't been able to enjoy it.
"When I heard it had been caught, it felt like a weight had been lifted."
PC Martin Beck, a police wildlife liaison officer, confirmed an investigation was ongoing to find out if the owl had been caught legally.
A spokesman for Owls R Us would not comment while the investigation was ongoing.
Eurasian eagle owls are the largest and most powerful in the world, weighing up to 4kg. They live in mountain cliffs, ravines and rocky forests in Europe and Russia. The species became extinct in the UK in the 19th century, but some captive birds that escaped or were freed are living in the wild. They eat rabbits, hares, game birds, foxes, young roe deer, and other birds of prey.