The Tawny Owl is our most common owl and one of legend. There are over 20,000 pairs of Tawnies resident in the UK (Source:RSPB) but it’s still a treat to hear a lot of them at once. So I just had to stop and listen when tonight at around eight o’clock, my garden was surrounded by owls. I’ve heard individuals around but not so many at once. (I live on a very normal 60’s estate, albeit in a village.) I heard two distinct, female owls screeching the Tu-whit call and then the answering Tu-whoos from several male owls. Then there was a terrible screeching fight following two male calls from the same direction.
No wonder the Tawny is often called the screech owl and has such ominous superstitions associated with it. It’s said that if one calls on your house you can expect to hear of a death. Now I’m quite superstitious but I also rather like Tawnies. I remember well my Gran talking me into her garden almost 35 years ago, to listen to a gathering of owls much like I’ve heard tonight.
If you want to try mimicking the Tawny Owl’s call, it’s pretty easy and you should get them to call back to you. It will even draw them in closer as they come to investigate the newcomer to their territory.
Tawnies hunt silently after dusk, preying on mice, voles and small mammals and birds. The urban Tawny is known to like house sparrows, which I hope aren’t on the menu this week, as I have a large, boisterous group of young sparrows that pop by everyday.
But why all the screeching now?
You’ll often hear Tawnies calling in Febuary as they search for a mate – they pair up for life and prefer traditional nest sites like holes in trees. They then lay their eggs between March and early May. The young hatch around a month later and fledge up to two months after that. Which means there are plenty of young owls around now. Tawnies are highly territorial and many of these young birds will starve if they can’t secure a territory once the parents stop feeding them. You can hear them fighting for these territories from August to November, but as adults usually keep their feeding range for life, these young birds will have to venture further afield for food. Let’s hope they have better luck than they’re said to bring us.
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
Pressed closely palm to palm and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him.—And they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call,—with quivering peals,
And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of jocund din!
Finally, if you want to photograph a Tawny Owl you could try searching around the base of trees in your local woodland for their droppings or pellets – a sign that they may be roosting in the branches above during the daytime or in the area. Or, you could join a bird of prey photography workshop, which is how I got these close-up shots. I chose goingdigital.co.uk and had the expert advice of Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson.