Saturday, 18 June 2016

Bird of the week - Tawny owl

The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is a fairly common but elusive bird, more often heard than seen.  It has the beautiful dark eyes of a night hunter but uses its supersensitive hearing more than its sharp eyesight.  This photos are of a captive reared bird taken on a photoshoot with Alan Hewitt and Andy Howey.

Tawny owls are woodland birds and are found in most areas of Great Britain apart from the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Because it is nocturnal the tawny owl is difficult to monitor but the UK population is around 50,000 pairs with year-to-year variations influenced by the availability of prey.

You can see from this EBCC tawny owl distribution map that the UK is part of Europe.

Thomas Bewick gave the tawny owl's other names of Common Brown Ivy Owl or Howlet.  He also wrote "The Tawny Owl and Brown Owl have by the older authors been described as a distinct species; but Latham, Montagu, and Temminck seem to agree in considering them identical, the differences arising merely from age and sex."  Here is Bewick's engraving from A History of British Birds published in 1797.
The commonly used description of the tawny owl's call comes originally from William Shakespeare in Love's Labour Lost, Act V, Scene 2 [Winter]:
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,

You can listen to the female owl's Tu-whit here and the male's Tu-who here.  Listen to Sir David Attenborough's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on tawny owl here.

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