Four native British owls...
There are four native owls that regularly breed in the UK: Tawny Owl, Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl and the Barn Owl. The Little Owl is an introduced bird which has become naturalised. In addition, there are apparently a few pairs of Eagle Owl of unknown origin in the north of England, and Snowy Owls have previously bred in the country (most famously on the Shetland island of Fetlar in the 1960s and 1970s). It is possible to see all four native species in a day in many parts of Great Britain (Tawny Owls are absent from Ireland) at this time of year.
1 Short-eared Owl
Generally a breeding bird of the north and uplands, Short-eared Owls are more widespread in winter, favouring open country, such as rough grassland for hunting small mammals in the crepuscular hours, but also in full sunshine. Long-winged, almost harrier-like, flying with a ‘stiff-winged’ rowing action with dark-surrounded yellow eyes and black wing tips.
2 Tawny Owl
The commonest UK owl is a bird of woodland, particularly broadleaf woodland. Medium-sized and rounded in shape, with blunt, rounded wings, for woodland hunting, and black eyes. Almost exclusively nocturnal, they are occasionally detected when being ‘mobbed’ by small birds, as they try to roost in Ivy or a hollow in a tree. The famous wavering hoot is the standard song, with ‘kewick’ given as a call.
3 Long-eared Owl
Though related to the Short-eared Owl, the Long-eared is very much a woodland bird (though will hunt in open country). Rarely emerges until under the cover of darkness. Similar in appearance to the Short-eared, but with less contrast in the wing tip and orange eyes not surrounded by dark; plus long ‘ear’ tufts. In winter, most frequently seen roosting by day in dense bushes, trees etc, sometimes communally. Erects ear tufts when nervous.
4 Barn Owl
Unmistakable as the only medium-sized predominantly white owl (the rare Snowy Owl is an enormous owl). Barn Owls will hunt during the day, especially if they have hungry young to feed; but are also seen in the crepuscular hours. The heart-shaped white face (with dark eyes) and goldengrey upperparts are well known and familiar. The wings are relatively short and broad and the flight is quite ‘stiff’. Will readily hover above potential prey.