37 - 46cm
0.8 - 1.1m
385 - 800g
4 - 8 yrs
The tawny owl, sometimes known as the brown owl, is a small owl commonly found across Eurasia and is one of the 6 owl species native to the UK. Due to its presence across the continent and its distinctive hoot, it often designated as the “generic” owl in European media. It has many superstitions attached to its nocturnal behaviour, such as being an omen of bad luck.
This owl is very robust with a round, stocky shape and a head that lacks ear tufts. It is thought of as being quite plain in appearance, with a fairly uniform rufous-brown colouration to its plumage, although the underparts are a touch lighter with brown streaks. There is little difference between the sexes, but the female tends to be larger and much heavier than the male.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
Its signature hoot is so distinctive that it is commonly used in media as an opposing sound effect to the cockerel call. It has several functions, but usually finishes with a wavering “huhuhuhooo”. The female will occasionally return a hoarse variation on the call, similar to “wow-wow-hooo”. The contact call is “kewick”, usually sounded as a duet between a pair.
Most woodland rodent species fall prey to the tawny owl, but it may take other mammals up to the size of a rabbit. It also feeds on insects like beetles and earthworms as well as small birds, particularly in urban areas. It watches from a perch under the cloak of night before gliding silently to its victim, but may hunt in daylight if it has young to feed.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
It nests in a small hole, either in a tree; squirrel drey; or building. The female incubates clutches of 2 or 3 glossy white eggs for one month, after which the downy chicks will hatch. The parents are ferocious in defense of their nest, once taking the eye of photographer Eric Hosking. The chicks will be cared for by their parents for two to three months after fledging.
They are found across Eurasia between Great Britain and Siberia, but they are suspiciously absent from Ireland due to competition from the long-eared owl. They usually live in deciduous forests in locations where water is readily available. However cemeteries, gardens and parks have allowed it to spread into urban areas, including central London.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
The population is thought to be stable, with estimates placing the number of individual tawny owls at around 2.5 million. There are therefore no organised conservation efforts in place, but it does occur in areas that already have protected status. Its main threats are manmade, such as collisions with power lines and vehicles, as well as pesticide use.
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