How did you do?
Here is an owl with legs outstretched, in pouncing mode, apparently about to grab something from the wooden lump, presumably a tasty morsel. The general rule that a relatively large head means a relatively small bird rather fails with owls, which all have large heads. This one does seem to have a particularly big one, though, suggesting small size. The barred wings seem relatively short, the legs long. The barred underwing rules out Barn Owl and the yellow iris rules out the dark-eyed Tawny Owl as well as the red-eyed Long-eared. But the wings are too well marked and lacking in black wingtips to be the much longer-winged Short-eared Owl. This long-legged little owl is a Little Owl.
KEY FEATURES Brown-and-white streaked and barred plumage Yellow eyes Long legs White spots on back of head
A large-headed owl, perching in what looks like coniferous woodland. Perhaps the most striking feature are those incredible staring yellow eyes. These alone mean we can dismiss the dark-eyed Tawny (and the much paler Barn) without any hesitation. Long-eared Owls also have reddish-orange eyes and generally orange faces and anyhow do not have brown backs and wings spotted with white. Neither does the yellow-eyed Short-eared Owl. And the cheeks are too pale for Little Owl. This is not one of the regular British owls. The face pattern alone leads us to either the very rare Hawk Owl or Tengmalm’s Owl. The blotchy not barred breast and the short-tail mean this is the Tengmalm’s Owl, a very rare visitor to the UK.
KEY FEATURES Large head Pale face lined with dark brown Yellow eyes Hint of brown ‘ears’ gives had a square-headed look
Here we have an owl conveniently flying in broad daylight. The pale eyes and heavily marked plumage immediately rule out Barn Owl and the slim shape, long wings and pale eyes also take Tawny Owl out of the equation. This is one of the Asio or ‘eared’ owls, which are remarkably similar in hunting flight. Both have long wings with prominent dark carpal patches and disc-like faces. There are a few features which identify this bird without question, though. Firstly, the wings lack clear black tips. Secondly, the facial disc is orangebrown with limited black around the eyes. Thirdly the eyes themselves are orange, not yellow. All these features point to this being a Long-eared Owl, uncharacteristically flying by day..
KEY FEATURES Warm brown and orange heavily marked plumage Long wings Wings lack well defined dark tips Red eyes
A backlit owl flying in the low light of sunset or sunrise, heading straight toward the photographer with wings held rather stiffly high. But even with these attempts to fool you, the identity of this bird should be very straightforward. Its heart-shaped white face and dark eyes should be enough to pin its ID straight away. Dark eyes are actually not a common feature of European owls, at all, with just Tawny Owl, Barn Owl and the huge (not British) Ural Owl and the (African) Marsh Owl having dark irises. The unmarked underparts and that distinctive face, as well as that flight style make this bird unmistakable as a Barn Owl. To give it a bit of extra boost, it is also flying while the sun is up and seemingly hunting over open ground.
KEY FEATURES Heart-shaped plain white face Dark eyes No markings on the body or wings Moderate-length wings
A ‘fat’ round owl in a broad-leaved tree. If you encountered this bird in the field, your first thought should be that this would be Tawny Owl, a bird with 50,000 breeding pairs across the UK. As stated above (Bird 4), not many of our owls have dark eyes, and this is certainly no Barn Owl, being far too strongly marked. So, the Tawny Owl identification is looking even more nailed on. The plump, rounded shape, reddish brown coloration, plain facial disc, with a central dividing dark vertical line, and that broad white row of white spots on the shoulder all back up the identification as indeed a Tawny Owl, of the rufous morph.
KEY FEATURES Chunky, rounded unit of an owl Red-brown, well marked plumage Dark eyes and plain face Broad white shoulder band
For our last ‘mystery’ owl we have chosen a photograph where the bird is partially hidden by foliage, to try to increase the level of difficulty. However, this should not be too difficult an owl to identify. It is apparently sitting on the ground, which would be odd for most owl species. The body and wings seem long and the head relatively small. The real giveaway comes with the head. Those eyes are a startling yellow set in a surround of black mascara. And on top of the head are two little triangular ear-tufts. In themselves, they prove nothing, as both eared owls can show similar low ear tufts (Long-eared Owl ear tufts usually only go upright when disturbed). In combination with the yellow eyes, this can only be a Short-eared Owl.
KEY FEATURES Yellow ‘crossed’ eyes with dark ‘mascara’ Relatively small head and long ‘body’ Tiny ear tufts Golden with dark markings, including on facial disc