A robust, medium-sized owl with a distinct large, rounded head. Tawny owls have a prominent facial disc rimmed with darker, dusky feathers, with dark forward-facing eyes and a pale bill. Its underparts are light beige with dark streaks, and the upperparts are red-brown or grey. The territorial hooting call of a male tawny owl is probably the most familiar of UK owl calls, especially during the breeding season in February and March. The tawny owl is Scotland’s most abundant owl.
This nocturnal bird of prey hunts a wide variety of species, but primarily takes small mammals such as mice and voles. In urban areas, birds such as starling and blackbirds, form a large portion of the owl’s diet.
Tawny owls normally mate for life. Established pairs will remain on their breeding territories throughout the year and are strongly territorial. The nesting period usually takes place in February, commonly in holes in trees. The females incubate 2-3 eggs for about 30 days. The chicks fledge out after 35 – 40 days, but remain with their parents for about 60 – 90 days.
The famed ‘twit twoo’ is actually the back and forth calls of male and female owls. The female’s usual call is ‘keewik’, which is used as a contact call. The male’s call is a drawn out ‘hooo’, followed by a brief pause, before a softer ‘hu’ and then a resonant final phrase of ‘huhuhuhooo’.
- Length: 37-39cm
- Wingspan 94-104cm
- Weight: 330-600g
- Average Lifespan: 4-6 years
Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The tawny owl was moved onto the Amber List in 2015 because of concerns of a long-term population decline. Exactly why, is unclear, but a loss of woodland habitat for nesting and the abundance of small mammals for predation, are thought to be key factors.
Tawny owl is a species that favours deciduous woodland habitats, but may breed in larger rural and suburban gardens. The tawny owl is mainly a lowland bird in the colder parts of its range, but breeds up to 550m in Scotland. They are widespread residents on mainland Scotland, particularly in the south and lowland areas, but are absent from some of the off-shore islands, such as Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.
When to see
January to December
- Tawny owls appear to show an aversion to water; thus, the species is absent from many islands, including Ireland.
- Across its range in the UK, the tawny owl goes by a host of different names, such as, ‘hill hooter’, ‘screetch owl’ and ‘ivy owl’.
- Tawny owl’s hearing could be up to ten times better than a human’s. Two ear openings differ in structure and are asymmetrically placed to improve directional hearing. A passage through the skull links the eardrums, and small differences in the time of arrival of a sound at each ear enables its source to be pinpointed.