WITH their round heads and flat faces, forward-facing eyes and a short, hooked bill, it’s easy to spot an owl. Those special features make them well adapted for hunting small prey. As they are usually nocturnal or crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk), it means that for most of the year these mysterious hunters stay hidden, but winter is one of the best times that you can see and hear them. Here’s our guide to the five incredible species that live right here in the UK.
BRILLIANT BARN OWLS
Barn owls have a heart-shaped face, buff -coloured wings and a pure white underbelly – it’s easy to see why another name for it is the ghost owl. This is the owl you’re most likely to see hunting in the countryside, but don’t forget to listen out for them as well – barn owls don’t hoot, they screech!
The little owl was introduced to the UK in the late 1800s and spread across the country. It bobs its head up and down when alarmed, and eats beetles and worms, as well as small mammals. They also run on the ground to chase after their food.
TU-WHIT TU-WHO’S THAT?
If you hear “tu-whit, tu-whoo”, this is in fact two tawny owls calling to each other. The female’s “keewick” is answered by the male’s “ooo-ooo-ooo”. Tawny owls are our biggest owls and are roughly the size of a pigeon. Their feathers are mottled brown and cream and they have large black eyes.
SHORT BUT SWEET
Short-eared owls are beautiful birds with large, fierce yellow eyes and short head feathers (known as ear tufts, even though they’re not ears).
THEY’RE ALL EARS
With buff -brown wings and deep orange eyes, the long-eared owl is very similar to its short-eared cousin. However, they look much longer and thinner, with ear tufts that they raise when alarmed. They are also well-camouflaged and hard to find when hiding in dense vegetation.
HOW TO SPOT THEM
During the cold weather, food becomes more difficult to find and so barn, short-eared and little owls hunt during the day. They also move out of the forests into open land like marshes, farmland and even along the coast. Owls are also known to quietly wait on fence posts, looking and listening for rustles in the grass. Barn owls often do this to save energy and avoid flying in the chilly air. So keep your eyes peeled in all these locations for these brilliant birds.