We’re all used to hearing birds as we lie in bed. The early morning dawn chorus is a daily treat many of us like to listen to soon after we wake. But do you ever hear birds during the night? I know I do. Quite often, as I drift off to sleep, I can hear the call of a tawny owl.
You might be wondering, if I’ve only ever heard and never seen our resident hooter, how I know which kind of owl it is. Well, contrary to what you may think, not all owls hoot. The barn owl, for example, makes a screeching sound instead. I’ve listened to various owl calls on this website and, after a little searching, I’m certain that our nightly visitor is a tawny owl.
Tawny owls are not all that big – about the same size as a pigeon. They are strictly nocturnal, so the chances of you ever seeing one are pretty rare. You are however much more likely to hear them. The ‘tuwit-tuwoo’ hoot they are famous for is actually a courtship. The female makes the ‘tuwit’ and the male replies with ‘tuwoo’. It’s most commonly heard two or three hours after sunset in the autumn and winter. At this time of year tawnies are pairing up, ready for the mating season in February.
The tawny owl’s natural habitat is woodland, where it preys upon small mammals like rats, moles or rabbits. However, due to a decline in treed areas, some tawnies have taken up residence in more urban environments. Small mammals are nowhere near as common in our towns and cities and so the tawny has had to adapt both its hunting methods and its eating habits.
In their natural forest homes, tawny owls perch quite close to the ground and pounce on any unsuspecting prey they notice. In cities though, they have a different technique. They perch high on rooftops or telegraph poles, keeping an eye out for sleeping small birds which they will snatch from their roosts.
Tawny owls are stealthy creatures. Their feathers have adapted a soft, velvety texture which makes the birds’ flight almost silent. They have excellent eyesight and hearing which they use to locate their hapless prey. A mouse may be going about its business, totally ignorant of its danger, when death falls upon it from above.
This isn’t the first time we’ve written about owls. Back in November my colleague Sarah wrote this piece, full of facts about these birds of prey and inspired by a childhood visit to a wildlife sanctuary. It also has a link to a great source of information on British owls. If you like owls then why not take a look?