The tawny owl

David Chapman

The tawny owl is the archetypal owl, a night hunter with big eyes, good hearing and the famous 'tuwhit-tuwhoo' call.

You may be surprised to learn that the tuwhit-tuwhoo is probably being made by two birds because although both male and female have the ‘tuwhit’ or ‘kewick’ in their vocabulary only the males make the ‘tuwhoo’ call. So the ‘tuwhit-tuwhoo’ is a male responding to a female.

Courting takes place through winter and will last until early spring so February is often a busy and noisy time for tawny owls.

Pairs mate for life but, not wishing to take each other for granted, partners will repeatedly consolidate their relationship through communication and courtship feeding, in which the male brings food to his mate.

This pair bonding may also spill over into territorial disputes with the neighbours, which often include their own young from last year.

Tawny owls can often be heard in gardens, particularly where there are large trees but since their natural habitat is woodland, where flying is made difficult by branches and leaves, they like to perch and wait for prey to reveal itself. They use their eyes and ears to locate creatures such as wood mice, bank voles, shrews and even beetles.

To prevent their quarry from hearing their approach the flight of the tawny owl is made silent by an incredibly soft downy covering on its feathers. Feet first the owl grabs for its prey and if the grip of the owl’s feet doesn’t kill the unfortunate creature then the stab of its talons certainly will.

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