North York Moors

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Tawny owl

Tawny owls in treeTawny owls in tree
Scientific name

Tawny owl (Strix aluco). 

Habitat

Deciduous woodland, farmland, parks, gardens and other places where there are plenty of old trees. 

Appearance

Tawny owls are very difficult to spot because they are nocturnal and also because they are really well camouflaged. Their feathers are streaked with brown and black and patterned to match tree trunks, making them very difficult to see. 

You are much more likely to hear them than to see them. A ‘hoo hoo’ sound is probably a male owl hooting to tell other males ‘this is my territory, keep out!’ The well-known ‘twit twoo’ sound is likely to be a pair of owls calling to each other. The male says 'twit' and the female replies with a 'twoo'.

Lifestyle

Tawny owls roost, or sleep, during the day, perched amongst leafy branches in a tree. Sometimes small birds such as blue tits and chaffinches discover an owl whilst it is roosting. They chatter and tweet loudly and mob the owl constantly to make it leave the area. You can often spot where an owl has been roosting because the ground beneath is splashed with white droppings and pellets. 

Tawny owls mainly eat small rodents such as mice and voles, but they may also take rats or even frogs if they get the chance. They usually swallow their prey whole and the bits that can’t be digested appear in the owl’s droppings or pellets.

Tawny owls have excellent night vision, but their hearing is even better – so good that they can hear the squeaks and rustles of a mouse moving amongst leaves or under snow.

Tawny owls are well adapted for hunting and have very sharp talons for catching prey. Their wing feathers allow the owl to fly almost silently and to swoop down on their prey without warning. However, the feathers are not waterproof, so you will rarely spot a tawny owl out in the rain.

Tawny owls pair for life and normally nest in holes in large tree trunks, sometimes using old nests or nesting boxes. They lay between 2 and 5 eggs as early as April. The grey-coloured chicks leave the nest after 32 to 37 days. 

Conservation

It is thought that there could be up to 20,000 pairs of tawny owls in Britain and they are probably the most common type of owl in the North York Moors. Other owls that live in this area are the barn owl, short-eared owl and little owl. 

The population of tawny owls is not thought to be in danger, although there have been some reductions in numbers over the last few years.