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Bird Watching (UK) - - November Id Challenge -


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

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