Owls are a specialized group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, that have been on our planet for over 60 million years. They have the large facial disk, with for forward facing eyes, round heads & hooked bill. Here in the Uk, we have 6 native species of Owl, mainly residents but other are nomadic with one species not even registered as a British Species.
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Our smallest species of Owl, but it's not a true native; it was introduced from Europe in the 19th century for early to keep down cockroaches in kitchens however many escaped and they began to thrive in farmland areas nesting in tree hollows, old building, nest boxes & even in holes as the base of trees & underground. Predominating a diurnal species feeding on mice, insects worms.
They are common on the Welsh borders & central, southern & south east England with a few in southern Scotland in parklands, orchards & its personal favorite lowland farmland with plenty of green corridors. Spotted on tree branches, fence posts, telegraph poles & farm builds. Numbers of Breeding pairs are in decline with surveys estimating the UK's population to be down by 24 percent between 1995 and 2008. Due to persecution, pesticides, loss of habitat & coming into collision with cars & trains. There are now around 5,700 breeding pairs left in the UK.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
The barn owl is the most widely distributed land-based birds & with over 32 different subspecies you can find them all over the world except polar and desert regions. They even fall into their own lineage of living owls being 'Tytonidae'. You can always distinguish them by their heart shape face, black eyes, long legs & short squarish tail though throughout the species they range in size and colour.
They predominantly hunt while flying quartering across open farm land faces down as much as possible to pick up sound from small mammals hidden deep under the vegetation, rarely venturing into wooded areas.
Although the Barn Owl is one of Britain's favorite bird for they have been in massive decline for many years, on average for ever 6 chicks hatched only one makes it through to the following breeding season. Two don't make it through the first winter due to lack of habitat, two get hit by a car and one gets hit by a train. This is down to barns being converted into house, cutting down large old trees with hollows leaving nowhere to nest, roadside is littered with food we don't want which draws in rodents & due to the barn owls low flying style it often comes into collision with cars & lorries, & high-speed trains often run alongside farmland & countryside barn owls often get caught up while hunting in the head lights as they can't judge the speed of the oncoming train. There are now less than 4,000 breeding pair left in the Uk but this number could drop considerably lower due to the ice cold temperature early spring 2013.
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
The Tawny owl is predominantly nocturnal mostly living in woodland but has adapted to living in town & even city parks. Still hunting; sitting silently waiting for the prey to come to them then silently dropping from its perch & seizing it's prey. Woodland tawny owls diets consist mainly of mice, shrews & voles, where city dweller tend to eat more small birds, but the truth of it is their not fussy on food! They've been known to eat frogs, large insects, fish, small birds (from the wren the to mallard ... duckling) & even young rats & rabbits; though they do tend to stick to the small stuff as they like to swallow their prey whole!
The Tawny owl is extremely elusive due to its nocturnal preferability so it is less often seen by day unless it's been disturbed from its root site. However hearing a Tawny Owl is a much easier thing they due to their adaptability they are the most common owl in the UK with over 40,000 breeding pairs. They are the 'twit-twooo' owl or more accurately the 'ke-wick' 'hooo hooo oooo' owl. But that's not the sound of one Tawny owl, there's two most likely being a male answering a female.
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
The most distinctive features of the long-eared owl are its black ear-tufts, orange eyes & reddish/brown facial disk. It breeds thinly across the Uk living in open woodland, parks, but rarely venturing into deep woods, as this owl prefers to live on the edge; breeding in abandoned crow & magpies nests.
Feeding mostly on rodent but will also take small birds. During winter months Long-eared owls migrate southwards & join up with other long-eared owls to roost in communally in groups; this is called a 'parliament of owls' & it has been known for groups to reach up to 200. It's still unknown why they congregate in parliaments but I believe it's for safety, warmth & even meeting a potential mate.
Short -eared owl (Asio flammeus)
The short-eared owl’s scientific name flammeus, meaning “fiery”, is a reference to its boldly streaked plumage, which provides excellent camouflage when concealed amongst vegetation.This species has a large round head, with a white-bordered facial disc, and striking yellow eyes framed with black. Generally spotted out hunting during the day, found in the open countryside such as moorland & rough heathland, but don't always look up to see them as the are usually ground, nesters!
Male Short Eared Owls go all out to attract a mate; performing dramatic aerial displays, wing-clapping ducking & diving, hovering & even singing to try to get the attention of a female. However these breeding pairs mostly only stay together for a single breeding season & if food is in abundance throughout the months of March to June they may breed with multiple partners.
Like the Long-eared owl they are migratory moving south for the winter, finding food over wetlands; if the area is abundant with food & the right conditions to nest they are known to even stay there for the summer. Because of their migratory tenancy number of breeding pairs are ever changing anything from 620 to 2,180; however, in the winter months, the UK can see anything from 5,000 to 50,000 Short-eared owls as an accidence migrates from Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland.
European Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
The European Eagle Owl was once a British bird however much distribute is currently going on wherever to cull or to give the owl its British bird status back; this is due to many believing the owl was never a British species they are only escapes from captivity & the affect it may have on our wildlife. However, the European Eagle Owl was native to Britain until the 19th Century then became extinct due to the persecution by man. Our current breeding consists of birds migrating over from over populated areas & yes many have escaped/released from captivity due to people buying them as pets during the Harry Potter craze, but soon realizing they cannot handle/look after the bird due to their size and aggressive nature if not raised correctly, owls do certainly not make good pets; now many have been passed on to falconers but many more simply escaped. But I do think they should be given their status back due to once being a British bird & the fact they are thriving in the midlands.
European Eagle Owls are one of the largest species of Owl, there is only one larger the Blakiston's Fish Owl, Bubo blakistoni, a sub-group of eagle owls. Our female 'Tiny' has a 6ft wingspan and weighs in at a massive 7 pounds eating 2 Rats a day. In the wild they have various hunting techniques taking prey in flight, pouncing out a tree & on the ground. Hunting in forests & open country. Being one of the biggest birds in Britain their not a lot they can't feast on. The major part of their diets consists of Voles, rats, hedgehogs, cats, foxes, rabbits & hares, birds including crows, duck, gulls, grouse & other birds of prey, other prey consists of snakes, lizards, fish & crabs, but most impressively the roe deer.
Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
We've heard the I've seen a Snowy Owl story many a time down hear in the South East & I'm sure many other falconers all over the UK have heard the same story, and after much discussion, they come to realize a Snowy Owl was not what they saw but a Barn Owl. Although registered as one the Snowy Owl is not a true British bird. When they migrate from Iceland to Norway sometimes they get blown off course & end up here in the UK. However, they don't stay very long as we haven't any Lemming's which makes up the main part of their diet.
Though it lives in the snow-covered tundra of the Arctic north in North America, Europe, and Asia, the snowy owl does sometimes make its way down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and hang out in more temperate zones in search of prey. It is one of the largest owl species and is the heaviest. And of course, the species has become famous in recent decades thanks to Hedwig, the snowy owl companion of Harry Potter.