British
Owls

Barn Owl flying
The Barn Owl

Barn Owl  Tyto Alba

Length: 29 – 44cm   |  Wingspan: 85-98cm  |  Weight: 235-323g

Description:
  • White underparts and under wings;
  • Sandy-buff upper parts flecked with grey and black;
  • Sandy/buff tail with horizontal grey/black barring. 
  • Distinctive heart white face. 
  • The males tending to be much lighter than the females with a white face whereas the females have buff facial highlights from the eyes down towards the beak, they also have a hint of buff across the top of the chest and some have tiny spots on from under the wings towards the middle of the chest (but these can’t be relied up for sexing in isolation as some males can have a smattering of spots),
  • the barring on the tail feathers are also darker in the female.

Unlike other breeds of owls, both sexes of the Barn Owl tend to be very similar in size.  The only weight difference will occur in the run up to breeding, when the male feeds the female so she comes into good condition for breeding.

  • Their home ranges are vast – up to 5,000 hectares
  • These contain a nest site, several favourite roosts, and several occasional roosts
  • This range reduces during the breeding season to around 350 hectares around the nest site
  • Unlike the Tawny Owl, Barn Owls are not territorial
  • Home ranges overlap with other pairs of Barn Owls
  • Some pairs will roost together all year around, others will live separately coming together during the breeding season
  • They are highly faithful to their home ranges and nest and roost sites
  • If there have been Barn Owls using an area or nest site/roost in the past, then with increase numbers, they will return
  • Widely but thinly distributed across lowland UK except for areas of urbanisation and dense woodland
  • Their habitat comprises open countryside, unmanaged grassland, pasture, and scrub. They avoid woodland, forests, and mountain areas 
  • As they rely on their hearing for hunting they are unable to hunt within suburban or urban areas although they have been known to roost and nest in buildings in noisy farmyards and business parks on the edge of towns, villages and cities near to their hunting grounds
  • Barn Owls although predominantly nocturnal but do have a diurnal tendency so will hunt during daylight if needed
  • Barn Owls use their hearing to hunt
  • They hunt on the wing (very occasionally from a perch)
  • They are able fly silently as they have no oil in their feathers but this and the use of their hearing can have downsides
  • Some will try to hunt in wet weather from perches and sometimes under hedges, although they can fly wet feathers mean they aren’t as agile, and they make a noise so their prey can hear them, also if the weather is bad their prey will also probably be keeping dry
  • As with wet weather, they find it difficult to hunt in the wind as they can’t hear their prey, so may resort to perch hunting in more sheltered sites i.e. along hedgerows if they can find them
  • If they have bad weather at night, they will hunt in daylight hours and can be seen in the Summer months if they have chicks to feed.
  • Their favourite prey is the short-tailed field vole which lives in unmanaged grassland
  • They will also take other rodents including small rats and have been known to also take, birds, frogs, bats, lizards and in Norfolk, they have been found to hunt over the reed beds for roosting starlings 
  • Apart from the courtship period around April when the contact call is a long, harsh screech, you have to be close to a Barn Owl to hear any of its calls the main one being a wheezing hiss, it also snores and purrs

Little Owl  Athene Noctua

Length: 21-24cm   |  Wingspan: 53-59cm |  Weight: 105-260g

The Little Owl was released in Britain in 1843 however, there are recorded sightings together with fossil evidence before then. 

They are classed as an introduced naturalised breeding species here, although some naturalists consider them to be reintroduced due to the fossil evidence.

Description:
    • Small and stocky
    • greyish brown upper parts
    • short tail mottled with white flecks/spots
    • paler underparts with dart streaks. 
    • Flattish head with piercing green/yellow eyes set below white eyebrows
    • Indistinct facial disk.
    • Females can be up to a third larger than the male.
Little Owl
The Little Owl
  • Unlike Tawny Owls and Barn Owls, male and female Little Owls have their own home ranges which can overlap with the breeding sight within this area
  • Males tend to have larger home ranges than females

The size of territory depends on;

  • The sex and age of the bird
  • The population density
  • Structure of the habitat
  • Density and availability of prey

They live in various habitats including:

  • Lowland farmland
  • Orchards
  • Parkland
  • Rural Villages
  • Large Gardens allotments
  • And Quarries

Their territories comprise a mixture of:

    • Scrub
    • Hedgerows
    • Barns/buildings
    • Grassland
    • Treelines and fences
    • And use open compost heaps and Midins
  • You are most likely to see them at dawn and dusk although they are about during daytime and love sunbathing
  • They can also continue to be active after dusk to midnight
  • They are able to hunt in the day and at night

Their prey includes:

  • Beetles
  • Spiders
  • Earthworms
  • Moths
  • Small mammals
  • Birds
  • The Little Owl has around 24 different calls
  • the two main ones are the males song which is a slightly nasal “gwooihk” becoming catlike with excitement and a warning call which is a high pitched “yap, yap, yap” becoming more staccato and strident
  • Male territorial vocalisations start during late winter (often from their favourite perch)
  • Calling can continue during the nesting season – March to June
Tawny Owl on ground
The Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl  Strix Aluco

Length: 36-40cm  |  Wingspan: 70-85cm |  Weight: 325-720g

Description:
  • There are 3 colour variations of the Tawny Owl being brown, grey and rufus.
  • The most common in the UK is the brown phase which is dark brown with paler barred upper and paler streaked under parts. 
  • It has a large, round head with a round facial disk and large dark eyes.
  • Female can be up to a third larger than the male.
  • These very adaptable Owls home ranges, in Britain, are around 12 to 20 hectares
  • The size is dependent on the quality of habitat and density of prey
  • Tawnies are very territorial and protect their home ranges by patrolling and calling to warn others this is theirs – they are prepared to attack when necessary
  • Broad-leaved and mixed woodland
  • Conifer plantations
  • Large urban parks
  • Suburban and Village gardens
  • Farmland
  • Hedgerows
  • Copses and Scrub

Tawny Owls are perch hunters, and their diet includes:

  • Rodents – voles, mice, rats – have been seen with adult rabbits etc
  • Birds – have been seen with Magpies
  • Bats
  • Amphibians
  • Invertebrates
  • Fish – they are great bathers and happy to wade so have been known to take the odd fish from ponds if the opportunity arises
  • The Tawnies are the “Twit-Twoo” owl – this call being made up by two owls calling to each other 
  • The calls are a distinctive hoooo    ho hoooooo this is generally the male and it is a low slow call
  • The other is kewick and is generally the female and it is a higher pitched staccato call
  • Tawnies also have a fast high pitched alarm call and have a close quarter purring call

Short Eared Owl  Asio Flammeus

Length: 33-42cm  |  Wingspan: 95-110cm |  Weight: 210-500g

Description:
    • Pale yellowy brown upperparts mottled with dark brown with similar coloured underparts with dark streaks,
    • wings are long with a dark patch at the wrists.
    • Yellow eyes
    • large facial disc with small ear tufts.
    • The female can be up to a third larger than the male
Short Eared Owl flying
The Short Eared Owl
  • This is migratory bird with the ability of moving across thousands of miles*
  • A bird of open country, moorland, downland and forest and woodland clearings

*The BTO is currently involved in research into this fascinating owl including the use of radio trackers.

  • Hunting on the wing low over the ground but will also hunt from a fence post perch
  • Its prey consists predominantly mice and voles and small mammals
  • It will also take birds and invertebrates
  • Male song is a series of up to 20 short very fast hoots uttered on the wing
Long Eared Owl
The Long Eared Owl

Long Eared Owl  Asio Otus

Length: 35-40cm   |  Wingspan: 90-100cm  |  Weight: 200-435g

Description:
  • Ochre/buff upperparts with greyish wash mottled with dark brown or black
  • paler underparts streaked with black
  • light underwing with dark stripe
  • Orange eyes
  • a large greyish facial disk with a dark edge, and white highlights around the beak
  • distinctive ear tufts.
  • The female is up to a third larger than the male and can be darker in colouring
  • Edges of coniferous and  mixed, woodlands and forests
  • All with access to open countryside
  • A small mammal specialist
  • Takes mice and voles but will also take birds, frogs, bats, lizards etc
  • Usually hunting on the wing along hedgerows and woodland/forest edges
  • Will also hunt from a fence post perch
  • The adult Long Eared owl is generally only heard during the breeding season with the male giving a deep “whooh
  • The female a week, rasping mew 
  • The young can be heard from hatching through to fledging and sound like a high-pitched squeaky gate

Have You Spotted Or Heard Any Owls?

If so, we would love to hear about it for our research. Owls are an indicator and umbrella species and their presence and population size is an indication of the health and balance of their ecosystem and its biodiversity.