Middlesbrough Herald & Post

This little owl was a big treat


ONE of the most heart-warming wildlife moments comes whenever you bump into an owl.

It doesn’t happen every day, but then you always have a chance of spotting owls which occasional­ly fly in day-time such as short-eared, barn and little owls.

I came across this handsome little owl perched high up on a cliff face in a disused County Durham quarry and he was happy to pose for a photo.

Little owls are not native to Britain, but were introduced in the 19th Century. They gradually spread throughout England and Wales and have recently colonised southern Scotland.

Little owls normally hunt at dawn or dusk, like the other owls which you may spot in daylight, and will eat anything from insects to small rodents and from small birds to frogs.

They do have a very unusual method of catching their meals. Most of their hunting is done on foot and they will run after their prey to catch it.

They can also be quite deceptive when they have their backs to you because the feathered pattern on the back of their heads resembles a face.

So from a distance you might not know whether you are looking at the front or the back of the little owl.

Last year I was strolling around Nosterfiel­d Quarry near Bedale when I chanced upon a little owl sitting on a tree stump. It had its back to me and initially was quite confusing.

Then I realised that the little owl was looking after an owlet in a nearby tree so it was two for the price of one.

If you’ve got eagle eyes there’s always a chance that you will spot a little owl on a country walk, usually doing a bit of sunbathing in a tree and staring down at you.

I usually see several a year, though I still remember my very first one many years ago when I was travelling down the A19 to a Boro away match.

Roadworks meant that the traffic was moving at a trickle. I was a front seat passenger and was amazed to see a little owl standing inches away from the car wheels as we passed.

It had its eyes open which suggested that maybe it had just been winded by a passing vehicle. Hopefully it was able to fly away eventually.

I saw a few barn owls last year but not so many this year. I’ve been on several long car journeys lately and scoured the fields early and late in the day without fully concentrat­ing on the road, but the barn owls are avoiding me.

Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.paylor@gmail.com

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