Four na­tive Bri­tish owls...

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your Birding Month -

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.

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