Tonight at around eight o’clock, my garden was surrounded by owls – time to talk to the tawnies…
The tawny owl is our most common owl, with over 20,000 pairs resident in the UK but it’s still a treat to hear a lot of them at once. So, I just had to stop and listen, when tonight, my garden was surrounded by owls.
I heard two distinct, female owls screeching the 'tu-whi't call and then the wavering 'tu-whoos' from several males. A terrible screeching fight followed.
This is the owl of legends; and with a sound like that, there's little wonder the tawny has so many ominous superstitions associated with it. It’s said that if one calls on your house, then you can expect to hear of a death. I’m quite superstitious, but I also rather like tawnies. Almost 35 years ago, I stood in my gran's garden, to listen to a gathering of owls much like I’ve heard tonight. She taught me how to cup my hands and blow across my thumbs to recreate their who-hoos.
“If you want to try mimicking the Tawny Owl’s call, it’s pretty easy and you should be able to get them to call back to you. It will even draw them in closer as they come to investigate the newcomer to their territory...”
Tawnies hunt silently after dusk, preying on mice, voles and small mammals and birds. The urban tawny is known to like house sparrows, which I hope aren’t on the menu this week, as I have a large, boisterous group of young sparrows that pop by everyday.
but why all the noise now?
You’ll often hear tawnies calling in Febuary as they search for a mate – they pair up for life and prefer traditional nest sites, like holes in trees. They then lay their eggs between March and early May, with the young hatching around a month and fledging up to two months later. This means there are plenty of young owls around now. Tawnies are highly territorial and many of these young birds will starve once the parents stop feeding them if they can’t secure a territory. You can hear them fighting for territories from August to November. Adults usually keep their feeding range for life, so these young birds will have to venture further afield for food. Let’s hope they have better luck than they’re said to bring us.
“And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands pressed closely palm to palm and to his mouth Uplifted, he, as through an instrument, Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls, That they might answer him.—And they would shout Across the watery vale, and shout again, Responsive to his call,—with quivering peals, And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild Of jocund din!”
Finally, if you want to photograph a tawny owl you could join a bird of prey photography workshop, which is how I got these close-up shots. I chose goingdigital.co.uk and had the expert advice of Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson.