The most common is the Tawny Owl, which you are more likely to hear than see. This owl is nocturnal and lives in wooded areas.
The Barn Owl is the most loved of our owls, recognised by it's heart shaped face and beautiful plumage.
The Little Owl is the smallest of our owls and can be seen hunting for worms and insects during the day.
The Long-Eared Owl is a shy, secretive owl and like the Tawny Owl a nocturnal hunter.
The Short-Eared Owl hunts during the day but because of it's preference for marshy areas it is harder to see.
The European Eagle Owl is also known to be breeding in Britain again after being absent for many years.
The Snowy Owl, although a rare visitor, has not bred in this country since 1975, so is not classed as a British Owl.
Click on the sections below to read more about each owl.
The Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
The Tawny Owl is the commonest owl in Europe, it is also found in Scandinavia, Asia Minor, the
Middle East and East China.
The female lays one clutch a year of three to five eggs in February/March. Incubation is 28 to 29 days.
The young leave the nest at 29 to 35 days and are flying well at 7 weeks.
The Tawny Owl is fairly common everywhere but there is cause for concern as it has been in decline
in Britain for some time.
37 to 39 cm.
94 to 104 cm.
330 to 470g (These figures are for males, females are up to a third larger).
The Tawny Owl is the most common of our native species, it is also the most nocturnal so it is not seen very often. It is a very noisy Owl and is recognised by it's "Twit twoo" call, which is heard more at the end of the year as the Tawny Owl is the first of our Owl species to breed; so they are calling to one another as they pair up and find their own territories. They are very aggressive Owls and very protective of their territory and their young.
The Tawny Owl is mainly brown in colour and they are slightly larger than the Barn Owl. They also have a large facial disk and large dark eyes and their ear openings are very large as they also rely on their hearing to find their prey. Like most Owls the Tawny has a silent flight; their soft feathers and the fringed edges of the wings help them to achieve this. Unlike the Barn Owl who hunts by quartering the fields, flying backward and forward, the Tawny flies from tree to tree in search of food, although they will still hunt, this involves very little effort for the Owl who will sit for long periods of time just listening for prey. Prey consists mainly of small rodents but they have also been seen catching fish in small streams and ponds. Tawny Owls often sit in the road at night which often proves fatal for them.
The Tawny Owl is a woodland Owl and is happy to live wherever there are trees; this includes, parks, large gardens and copses.
The Tawny Owl will nest in holes in trees, old crow's nests and even squirrel dreys. They have also been known to lay their eggs underground in rabbit holes.
There are approximately 20,000 breeding pairs of Tawny Owls in Britain, they are not found wild in Ireland. The Tawny Owl has been in decline for several years now.
- Tawny Owl Call 1
- Tawny Owl Call 2
The Barn Owl - Tyto alba
The Barn Owl is found worldwide in temperate or warm climates, it is not found in cold climates.
More than thirty sub species of Barn Owl have been recorded.
Barn Owls usually pair for life. The female lays from four to six eggs in April/May and if conditions
are favourable will often produce two clutches a year. Incubation is 30 to 35 days with fledging at 60 days.
75% of young Barn Owls born every year do not survive. The winter can be a big problem, if severe,
as Barn Owls can not store body fat.
33 to 35 cm.
85 to 93 cm.
240 to 350g.
The Barn Owl is recognised by it's heart shaped facial disk and white under parts. Most people we speak to think that Barn Owls are white all over as the beautiful buff colouration of the upper feathers and wings are not seen when the Owl is in flight. The facial disk is very important to the Barn Owl as this Owl hunts almost entirely by using it's hearing and the facial disk helps to channel the sound of the prey into the asymmetrical ear openings situated on the sides of the disk.
Of the five species of Owl found in this country, the Barn Owl is the most skilled at hunting. Although this Owl prefers to hunt at dawn and dusk, during the breeding season the male can be seen hunting during the day. His offspring will be fully grown at sixteen weeks and they consume a tremendous amount of food. This Owl prefers to hunt over rough grassland and can be seen quartering the fields with it's moth like and silent flight.
The Barn Owl does not hoot but makes a loud shrieking call, it can also hiss and make snoring noises.
Barn Owls will nest in hollow trees but they are birds of the open countryside, not woodlands. They will nest in old farm buildings, and because of their diet of small rodents, they are also known as the Farmers Best Friend. There are now approximately 4.000 breeding pairs of Barn Owl in Britain. The biggest cause of death for the Barn Owl is the motor vehicle; these Owls like to hunt the grass verges by the roadside. About 4,000 Barn Owls are killed on our roads every year.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the Barn Owl is given special protection.
- Barn Owl Call 1
- Barn Owl Call 2
The Little Owl - Athene noctua
The Little Owl is found in Europe, Asia Minor, Arabia, Central and East Asia, China and
parts of North Africa.
The female lays from three to five eggs in May. Incubation is 22 to 29 days and the young leave the nest
at 35 days and are flying well at 46 days.
Little Owls are fairly common locally but like most of our owls have been in decline for a number of years.
21 to 23 cm.
54 to 58 cm.
150 to 230g.
The Little Owl is the smallest of our native species and was introduced to this country from Europe during the late nineteenth century.
The Little Owl can be seen during the day sitting on a fence post, although it prefers to hunt at dusk and during the night. They will often land in a field behind the plough in search of worms. Their main diet consists of beetles, worms, moths, small birds and some small mammals.
The Little Owl is usually a grey colour with pale spots and white freckling. They have large eyebrows and yellow eyes; this gives them a very fierce expression. They have broad, rounded wings and fly very quickly with swooping undulations, especially when they attract the attention of small birds who will mob the Owl to try and drive it away.
Little Owls hunt mainly by sitting on a post or branch and can look very comical when they bob their heads up and down looking at the ground.
The male Little Owl can weigh as little as four ounces, but because of it's thick, soft feathers looks a lot bigger.
Little Owls have a loud call that can be heard quite a distance away and it is not as recognisable as the Barn Owl's or the Tawny's.
- Little Owl Call 1
- Little Owl Call 2
The Long-Eared Owl - Asio otus
The Long-Eared Owl is found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, Scandinavia, Siberia, Japan and North America.
The female lays from 4 to 5 eggs in March/April. Incubation is 27 to 28 days and the young leave the nest
at 20 to 25 days and they are able to fly well at 35 days.
Long-Eared Owls are fairly common locally and widespread. Because they use old crows nest they are
often mistakenly shot by farmers trying to keep the crow population down.
35 to 37 cm.
90 to 100 cm.
200 to 400g.
The Long-Eared Owl is a shy, secretive Owl and like the Tawny Owl is almost entirely nocturnal. Unlike most Owls this Owl will roost in quite large numbers together. They like both broad leaved and evergreen woodland to nest in but like to hunt over more open ground.
The Long-Eared Owl can change it's shape quite dramatically; when roosting and relaxed it has a rounded shape but when alarmed or disturbed it can make itself very thin and almost invisible. Their large ear tufts also help break up their outline. Like the Barn Owl and Tawny Owl, it can open and close the facial disk; when sleeping it is closed and when listening for prey it becomes fully open. It hunts mainly by hearing and is a very accomplished night hunter. Their ear openings are very large and run almost the whole length of the face, and like the Barn Owls they are asymmetrical.
The main diet of the Long-Eared Owl consists of mice, voles and rats. They hunt on the edge of woodland and rough grassland and fly very slowly and close to the ground.
The feather colour ranges from yellowish brown to grey with white spotting and they have orange eyes. Their wings are longer than the Barn Owls and have orange or buff markings across the primaries.
The call of the Long-Eared Owl ranges from deep hoots to a noise similar to blowing through a comb.
The Long-Eared Owl nests in the woodland and will use old crows nests or squirrel dreys.
There are approximately 2.000 breeding pairs of Long-Eared Owls in Britain. This number is boosted from October to May when Long-Eared Owls come over from Europe for the winter.
- Long Eared Owl Call 1
- Long Eared Owl Call 2
The Short-Eared Owl - Asio flammeus
The Short-Eared Owl found in North and South America and many of the small islands off the coasts.
It is also found in Europe, Asia and north China.
The female lays from 7 to 10 eggs in April/May. Incubation is 24 to 28 days and the young leave the nest
before they can fly, at two weeks old, and hide among the grasses, they fledge after 24 to 27 days.
This is uncertain, they dislike intensive agriculture, the population in Britain is in decline.
37 to 39cm.
95 to 100cm.
260 to 420g.
The Short-Eared Owl so named because of the small ear tufts on it's head, is a very striking Owl with eyes the colour of lemon and a large facial disk. These Owls hunt during the day and can be seen sitting on fence posts. They are a stocky bird and larger than the Long-Eared Owl.
The Short-Eared Owl hunts by quartering the ground, flying slowly and low to the ground very similar to the Barn Owl, they will also sit very patiently waiting for prey.
Their prey consists mainly of mice, voles, shrews and some small birds. This Owl will also roost in large numbers if prey is abundant. They are ground nesting birds which can make them quite vulnerable to predators. The Short-Eared Owls preferred habitat is wet pasture, dunes and moorland with heather. The nest consists of a shallow scrape sometimes lined with twigs and grass, very few Owls make any sort of nest at all. If the female and her young are threatened the male Owl will draw the predator away by dragging his wing and pretending to be injured. They have also been known to fly at peoples heads if they approach to near to their nest site.
During the breeding season the male Short-Eared Owl will fly over his territory calling with a deep booming series of hoots; this is often accompanied by a rapid clapping of the wings whilst the wings are held under the body.
There are approximately 1,500 breeding pairs of Short-Eared Owls in Britain. This number is boosted during October and May by Short-Eared Owls that come here from Europe to spend the winter.
- Short Eared Owl Call 1
- Short Eared Owl Call 2
The European Eagle Owl - Bubo bubo
The European Eagle Owl is found throughout Europe and Asia but although widespread is locally rare.
The female lays from 1 to 4 eggs in late winter. Incubation is 31 to 36 days, the young walk around by
the nest site at five weeks old and they fledge at 52 days.
The European Eagle Owl is endangered in many parts of Europe by persecution from humans, some
countries are now reintroducing this owl through captive breeding.
58 to 71 cm.
18.8" (Female - females in general are up to a third larger than the males).
2280 to 4200g (Female).
The European Eagle Owl is the largest of the worlds Owls with females able to reach a weight of ten pounds and over. They are able to catch quite large prey and although they live mainly on a diet of small mammals they have been known to take small roe deer and foxes.
The European Eagle Owl is now known to be breeding in Britain after being hunted to extinction in the eighteenth century. A pair had been breeding in Yorkshire for ten years but sadly the female was shot. They had produced twenty-three young in that time, only two of these youngsters have ever been found, sadly both dead.
It seems quite probable that some of these Eagle Owls have come to Britain from Europe quite naturally, but sadly many people have these Owls and when they get fed up with them they release them into the wild. They can live to be sixty years old plus in captivity; to release captive bred owls into the wild is very cruel and also illegal.
The European Eagle Owl prefers to hunt at dusk but will often hunt during the day. Like most Owls it has a slow, gliding flight and catches it's prey with it's very large powerful feet.
It's natural habitat is mountainous, forested areas, rocky slopes and semi-desert and it nests in caves or on rocky ledges. It is pale brown in colour with lighter brown barred areas and it has large orange eyes. It has a large head with large ear tufts.
The European Eagle Owl is certainly the most awesome of the worlds Owls; it is known in France as "Le Grand Duc" (Grand Duke) - a fitting title for such a magnificent creature.
- The European Eagle Owl Call 1
- The European Eagle Owl Call 2
The Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiaca
The Snowy Owl is found in the Arctic tundra from Greenland and Iceland to Northern Canada,
Scandinavia, Northern Russia and Siberia.
The Snowy Owl breeds once a year but if food is scarce many will not breed. The female will lay 7 to 10
eggs in May/June Incubation is 32 to 33 days and the young will walk around the nest site at two weeks old.
They are flying well at 50 to 60 days.
This owl is very abundant when food is plentiful but may be absent if food is scarce.
The biggest threat to this owl is global warming.
51 to 68 cm.
137 to 164 cm.
1134 to 2000g.
The Snowy Owl is a bird of the Arctic tundra and is in fact the largest predatory bird found there. It has now been classed as a member of the Eagle Owl family. It is an occasional visitor to Britain, mainly the far north of Scotland where it bred in the 1970's on the island of Fetlar. No breeding has been recorded since.
The Snowy Owl hunts by day and by night and is a very powerful bird. It has large yellow eyes and unlike most Owls the female is marked differently to the male. The male is almost completely white, whereas the female has black or brown barring on the head, back and wings. These are ground nesting birds and the female spends a long time incubating her eggs and keeping her chicks warm so she must blend in with her surroundings. The male Snowy Owl will draw predators away from the nest site by pretending to be injured, just like the Short-Eared Owl. The Snowy Owls feathers are very dense and tightly packed and they have very heavy feathering on their feet to help protect them from the severe cold.
The diet of the Snowy Owl consists mainly of the lemming but they will also catch rabbits, rodents and birds. When the lemmings are plentiful the Snowy Owl is a prolific breeder. This Owl will travel long distances in search of food if there is a shortage locally.
The Snowy Owl has a slow style of flight and keeps close to the ground when looking for prey. They will also sit still for long periods of time listening for prey.
The Snowy Owl call can vary from a loud whistling to a deep almost barking sound.
- The Snowy Owl Call 1