The eagle has landed … right on your Ridgeback!

If you’ve been around Ridgebacks a while, you’ve doubtless heard the argument about whether the breed is a Sighthound or not.


Richard and Debbie van Aken think the answer is a resounding yes, and they attribute that conclusion to a rather persnickety species.


Several years ago, the van Akens set up a nesting box for Verreaux’s eagle-owls on their property in South Africa. The largest owl species found in Africa, with a wingspan of more than five feet, eagle-owls are unique among their species for their bright pink eyelids. They are great at killing vermin, and their numbers have dwindled in South Africa, which is why the van Akens thought it would be a great idea to give them their own aerie apartment on the property


It took several years before the box was occupied by its intended residents, but eventually the owls arrived.


And soon after that, the Ridgeback bombing began.


A Verreaux's eagle-owl. Note the distinctive pink eyelids. Photo by Gisela Gerson Lohman.

A Verreaux’s eagle-owl. Note the distinctive pink eyelids. Photo by Gisela Gerson Lohman.

Eagle-owls, it turns out, are intensely territorial. And though they are nocturnal hunters, they are also apparently very light sleepers. Roosting in the shaded branches of old trees, these apex predators will swoop down when roused. And apparently, nothing rouses a Verreaux’s eagle-owl quite like a Ridgeback trotting around, minding its own business.


“They attack the dogs silently,” explains Debbie, who took to taking torches on walks to protect their five dogs from these “mean machines” who rule the sky.  As for the dogs, “they spot the owls instantly,” she says — a nod to the breed’s tremendous visual capacity. While the eagle-owls will sometimes perch on the outside railings and peer into the house — Debbie is quick to draw the curtains on the feathered peepers — they don’t bother the humans. It’s just the Ridgebacks who’ve ignited this cross-species vendetta.


The eagle-owl attacks on the van Akens’ Ridgebacks were so upsetting that Richard had vowed to dismantle the nesting box. But he needn’t have bothered: Nesting season arrived, and the eagle-owls didn’t. Debbie doesn’t know what happened to them. And while she’s relieved that her dogs can now roam the property without fear of being dive-bombed, she’s sadly nostalgic, too.


“Go figure — now that they are not around to bully the dogs anymore, we miss them,” she says of the Ridgeback-hating flyers.


Do your Ridgebacks have to fend off any kind of wildlife? Have a story of interspecies interaction to share? Email me at