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Tawny owl

All about tawny owls

The tawny owl is one of the most common owls in Britain, able to live in a wide variety of habitats. Despite this, because it is nocturnal it is rarely seen. Most often, we only know of its presence by the familiar deep ‘tu-woo’ or ‘kee-wick’ most commonly heard about two hours after sunset in late autumn or winter.

What to look for

The tawny owl is 37-39cm long, with a rounded head, body and wings. It has large brown eyes, with its face surrounded by a ring of dark feathers. Its upper parts are usually reddish brown, with a line of dark and light patches on its wings and crown of the head. The under parts are yellowish-beige.

Did you know?

  • Tawny owls have fixed territories which they patrol very conscientiously and appear to know very well. Within the territory their roosting place is regularly changed.
  • In urban areas, the owls prey mainly on small birds such as sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds and starlings. Rodents make up only about 7% of the owl’s total diet. In woodland areas, small birds form only about 10% of the owl’s diet. The rest consists of rats, rabbits, moles, shrews, bats, mice and voles. The hunting methods of city and woodland owls also vary: in city areas, small birds are snatched from their roosts. Places like roofs and telegraph poles are used as vantage points to hunt from. In the woodland, owls usually perch close to the ground and wait for their prey to appear, then pounce.
  • The tawny owl’s feathers have a velvety pile and fine fringe that help to reduce the noise of the wings when flying, so the owl can approach its prey as quietly as possible. When hunting, tawny owls rely heavily upon their sight and hearing and use their talons only during the attack.
  • In the breeding season tawny owls nest in tree cavities, old crows’ nests, squirrel dreys and nest boxes; only when these are not available will it nest on the ground. The tawny owl lays 2-3 large, white, round eggs in late February and March and incubates them for 28-30 days. The young tend to leave the nest about four weeks after hatching, but are still dependent on their parents for two to three months afterwards, and occasionally on into autumn. It can be extremely difficult for the young owls; sometimes only one or two owlets per pair are successfully raised each year.

Photo gallery

Tawny Owl NottsWT (cpt Phil Palmer) Tawny Owl NottsWT (cpt Matt Berry) Tawny Owl NottsWT (cpt Darin Smith) Tawny Owl NottsWT (cpt Darin Smith) Tawny in hand NottsWT Tawny owl chick NottsWT (cpt John Black) Tawny in box Treswell NottsWT (cpt John Black) Tawny Owl  NottsWT (cpt Darin Smith) Tawny owl peeping NottsWT (cpt Darin Smith)

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Tawny owl Printable Factsheet


The tawny owl is one of the most common owls in Britain, with a population of about 20,000 breeding pairs.


The tawny owl lives in deciduous and coniferous woodland, wooded farmland and parkland. It can also be found in towns where there are large trees, such as in parks and churchyards.

Where to see

The tawny owl may be seen in a vafiety of wooded locations. However, because it is active only at night and its brown body is very difficult to spot when it roosts against a tree trunk or among ivy, it is not often seen. Sometimes it can be seen in daylight, but only when it is disturbed. If this does happen, its presence is often revealed by the mob of small birds which are harassing it to keep it away from their nests.


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