Tawny Owl

The Tawny Owl is the commonest owl in Britain and can be found anywhere there are old trees in which to nest, including towns. They are the silent assassins being noiseless when flying. In myths, the Tawny Owl is often associated with bad luck and death. It is featured on the soundtracks of horror movies with its spooky "twit-hoo-woo" call. Things are not looking good for you if a Tawny Owl calls your name.

The Tawny is a plump woodland owl the size of a Wood Pigeon. It is mottled brown with softly streaked feathers. The under parts are slightly paler. The wings are broad, and there is a short, rounded tail. The face is surrounded by a ring of dark feathers and has dark eyes which look friendly and wise. The female is a little larger than the male. The Tawny rarely flies in daylight. Their flight is fast, direct, and deadly silent. By day it roosts in holes close to the trunk of a tree or in ivy. The Tawny is remarkably difficult to see as their camouflage is so good. In addition to the owl call we all know, there is also a loud, sharp "kewick!" contact call.

Tawny Owls feed on insects and worms, small animals like voles, mice and shrews, and small birds silly enough to be out at night. They rely on knowing their hunting territory very well ('the knowledge') and will check each part every night. Their excellent vision, well-developed hearing, and silent flight are perfect for nighttime hunting.

The Tawny Owl nests in holes in trees with "owl" carved above them or in specially made owl nest boxes. Tawny Owls will defend their nest aggressively, even attacking human intruders, so stay clear. Nesting starts in February-March. The 2-5 eggs hatch after 28 days. The flightless young owlets leave the nest at 25 days and sit on a branch looking cute until they can fly a week later. For the first 3 weeks mum looks after the kids while dad does all the hunting. Once they are school aged, both parents will hunt leaving the kids at home. The youngsters depend on their parents for 3 months as owl schooling is tough.

There are about 40,000 resident Tawny Owl pairs in Britain, with established pairs keeping to the same territory. Young birds disperse in autumn to find their own patch, which is when they are most vulnerable. Many young birds starve when they cannot find a vacant territory once parental care has ceased. With the reduction in pesticides, Tawny's are doing well. The oldest ringed owl lived to 23 and was very wise. Their Latin name is 'strix aluco' from the Greek 'strix' for 'owl' and the Italian 'allocco' for 'tawny owl'.