The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)
As its name indicates, the Barn Owl likes weathered old barns to nest in but will also nest in hollow trees and rock crevices. Barn Owls have a white, heart-shaped face with a clearly defined disc lined with short, stiff, slightly rippled feathers. The eyes are small, dark and close set. It has spindly legs, and the upper body is an orange-buff, delicately spotted with grey brown and white. The under parts are white. The bill is an ivory colour. The female is larger with a greyer back and usually a more spotted front. Barn Owls do not hoot. While flying they mark their territory with a wild shriek.
The Barn Owl is a stealthy hunter and a master of silent approach and attack. It can often be seen flying low over fields at dawn and at dusk, but it will hunt throughout the day when necessary. Its small body and large wings allow it to glide and hover over ditches and hedges. It is often seen on fence posts or sitting on top of road signs, waiting for prey to pass beneath. Barn Owls are unable to hunt in wet weather; their feathers get waterlogged, so they can starve during long wet spells. Cold winters with deep snow also make hunting difficult and reduce the population through starvation. The chief problem for barn owls, however, is the loss of habitat, and this reduces potential nest sites and the number of hunting grounds, as well as the amount of food. Barn Owls survive mainly on small animals like: short-tail voles, mice and rats, the voles in particular are very important to them.
The eggs are laid at intervals of one or two days and incubation starts with the first egg. As a result, the size of the young in a nest varies. It has been known for the Barn Owl to lay up to 12 eggs. The oldest may be eight times heavier than the smallest and when food is scarce the largest is fed and the weaker ones are allowed to starve.
The Barn Owl is the widest distributed owl in the world they are found in North, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Southern and South East Asia and Australia. The Barn Owl likes habitats with coarse, rough grassland and scrubby forest edge.
The Long Eared Owl (Asio Otus)
The long ear tufts, which give the owl its name, can be raised up like ears of a curious cat, or flattened back over the head so that they are difficult to see. The ear tufts have nothing to do with hearing; its real ears are long, vertical slits on each side of the facial disc giving the owl sensitive, acute hearing. It is unclear what purpose the ear tufts serve, but they possibly aid with camouflage. Hunting Long-eared Owls concentrate on the edge of woodland and open spaces with rough grasslands and over young trees and waste ground of all kinds. They fly low and pounce on small mammals, such as mice, rats and also on roosting birds.
The Long-eared Owl starts incubation from the very first egg and only if there is plenty of food will the smaller weaker chicks be fed. The nest site is in old nests of the other birds, e.g. magpies or crows, in trees. Parent owls are very aggressive and fearless in defence of their young. It’s preferred habitat is coniferous forests, but occasionally deciduous woodland. It needs trees to roost and nest in but hunts over open areas.
The wild distribution of the Long-eared Owl is North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa. They like habitats with forest, isolated thickets, and woodland and marsh edge.
The Short-Eared Owl (Asio Flammeus)
The Short-eared owl is the possibly the one of the easiest to see as it is active during the day. As the name suggests, the short-eared owl does have ear tufts, but because they are only short, they are often hard to detect. The ear tufts have nothing to do with it’s hearing, as like all owls its real ears are openings on the side of its head, behind the facial disc.
A yellow eyed bird, active during the day. It is a slender, streamlined bird with a buff and dark brown back, paler underneath with dark streaks on the throat and chest. The claws are black and the bill a dark horn-colour with a much lighter tip. They are difficult to see when at rest on the ground, its preferred resting place.
The prey of Short-eared Owls is almost exclusively made up of small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews. The owl prefers an open moorland and heath land habitat, but also likes young conifer plantations. It prefers to perch on posts or on the ground, and is seldom seen in trees.
The nesting site is on the ground; six to eight eggs are laid. The male hunts; presenting food to the female in special food passes. If food is plentiful, only the male hunts. For such large owls, they fly at a very young age, when only 24 to 27 days old. The young rely on their parents for at least seven weeks.
The wild distribution is North and South America, Caribbean, Europe and Asia
The Little Owl (Athena Noctua)
The Little owl is appropriately named, as it is Britain’s smallest owl. It is a rather dark, liver brown with paler spots and with freckling on the forehead. The under parts are dull white, densely marked with smears, streaks and spots of brown. The face is pale with dark and light eyebrows low over the glistening yellow eyes giving the bird a typically fierce quizzical frowning expression.
They prefer open country and hedgerows for hunting and avoid dense woodland areas. Little Owls eat invertebrates such as cockroaches, earwigs, moths, earthworms and a few small mammals. When they have young to fed, Little Owls will also take small birds such as sparrows. Little Owls hunt mostly in daylight hours. A hunting Little Owl has an intent, determined air as it bobs about, peering at the ground.
Little Owls nest in holes in stonewalls, disused rabbit warrens or holes in trees. They usually like to choose a hole with more than one exit. They lay three to five eggs. Incubation of the eggs is sometimes delayed until the full clutch is laid. Incubation takes about four weeks.
The Little Owl’s preferred habitat is open farmland and wasteland in urban areas, but it avoids woodland. The Little Owl is on the decline due largely to loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning and accidents with the increasing traffic on our roads.
The wild distribution of the Little Owl is Europe, Central and Eastern Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
Tawny Owl (Strix Aluco)
The Tawny Owl (also known as the Hoot Owl and Brown Owl) is Britain’s most common owl. This prevalence is due largely to its nocturnal habits which have given the Tawny Owl some protection from persecution. Also its size, physical dominance, varied diet and ability to adapt to changing circumstances and exploit new habitats such as urban parkland and even large gardens, have enabled it to sustain larger numbers.
The Tawny has also been relatively unaffected by pesticide poisoning. Indeed the only major problem it has experienced is the loss of some nest sites following the spread of Dutch Elm disease and several years of winter gales.
Weighing up to 0.58kg and with a wingspan of up to 104cms, the Tawny Owl is Britain’s largest mainland breeding owl. Surprisingly it is not found anywhere in Ireland. The Tawny has an extremely varied diet which includes rodents, birds taken from night roosts and invertebrates. Some Tawny Owls have even learnt to take, fish, frogs and amphibians by wading in shallow streams.