Tawny Owl Bird Information & Facts

A Tawny Owl perched on a wooden stump.

The tawny owl is one of the most common owls in Europe and remains in its breeding grounds even during severe winters. The Tawny Owl is our largest owl and is known to most people with its
blood-curdling calls, which are often used in horror films to produce a
spooky atmosphere. It is a resident bird.

The brown owl of the countryside and source of the most familiar owl hoots and shrieks. Although widespread (except Ireland), surprisingly seldom seen. Upperparts brown. mottled buff; underparts buffy, broadly streaked brown. Well-marked facial disc set off by large, dark eyes. In flight, wings long and rounded.

Status: Tawny owl is a widespread and numerous resident throughout Britain; absent Ireland.

Similar Species: The bird can be confused with much scarcer Long-eared Owl but calls completely different.

Bird Facts

Size36-40 cm (14-15 in)
Habitattowns and gardens, heaths, forests and woods, fields and hedges
BehaviorPerches openly, takes off and lands on vegetation
Voicehooted hoo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo; harsh ke-wick

Tawny owl bird identification

The tawny owl is larger than Feral Pigeon (38 cm). A powerful, stocky owl with a large head and large black eyes. Bark-colored plumage pattern on a grey or (less often) brown ground color. In flight, the broad rounded wings, which are barred underneath, and the large round head are characteristic.

Length: 38 cm.
Wingspan: 92 to 94 cm. The male and female have like plumage, which shows marked variation in coloration.
Voice: During the courting season ‘hoo-hoo-hoo, ‘oo-oo-oo-oo’, sometimes also ‘ke-wick’.
Size of Egg: 43.0—51.7 X 34.4——43.3 mm. The eggs are pure white.

tawny owl bird identification

1. The tawny owl has a rounded head and striking large black eyes.

2. At first young wear a coat of white down; young in brown juvenile plumage.

Crownbrown, mottled buff
Upperpartsbrown, mottled buff
Rumpbrown, mottled buff
Tailbuff and brown; short and square
Throatbuff, streaked brown
Breastbuff, streaked brown
Billgrey; hooked
Legswhite; medium length


Europe except for Iceland, Ireland and most of northern Europe.


Female calls a soft repeated kiu-itt. The territorial song of the male is heard as early as autumn, a spine-chilling tremulous ringing ‘huuoh hu-hu-hu-huuh’.

Tawny owl Bird Habitat

A denizen of woods, it is found also in parks with old trees and sometimes in a large garden. In mild winters it often nests as early as February, otherwise usually in April. Even before this one can hear it hooting, and the odd sounds caused by the slapping of the wing quills against each other.

Deciduous and mixed woods, not too dense, and with at a few old trees; common in parks and large gardens with mature trees, even in the middle of towns.


The nest is usually located in a tree cavity, though the tawny owl will also occupy a large man-made nesting box. Occasionally it will take over an abandoned raptor’s nest and has also been known to make its nest in a hollow in the ground, though this is exceptional.


The female incubates the 3 to 5 eggs for 28 to 30 days by herself, the male bringing her food during this period and occasionally relieving her on the nest. Since the hen tawny owl begins incubating as soon as the first eggs are laid, the young hatch successively. For about 10 days after the first nestlings have hatched the hen does not leave the nest.

A Tawny Owl perched on a wooden stump.

The male tawny owl supplies the whole family with food, mainly small mammals, but also other vertebrates such as bats, reptiles, amphibians as well as insects. Later the hen assists in hunting but keeps an eye on the nest during the daytime. Sometimes she feeds the young in the daylight hours, supplying them from stores gathered during the night.

At the age of 28 to 36 days, the young leave the nest, remaining in its vicinity and continuing to be fed by the parents. When they are 50 days old they launch out on their first flight.

Single-brooded (February to June). Nests in a large tree hole, or in old crow or bird of prey nest; also in dark, quiet corners of buildings in large nest boxes. 2—5 white eggs, incubated by the female; incubation 28-30 days, young leave the nest at 25—30 days, fledge a week later.

Nesthole in tree or building
Eggs2-4; white
Incubation28-30 days
Younghelpless; downy
Fledging32-37 days
Broods1; March-May
Foodsmall mammals, small birds
Population50,000-100,000 pairs


The most catholic of our owls in its choice of prey: mice and rats. shrews, birds, frogs, toads, fish, large insects.


The otherwise strictly nocturnal Tawny Owl often sits outside its nest-hole throughout the day in fine weather to sun itself; not infrequently small birds come the ‘enemy’ and reveal the owl with their scolding alarm calls. When the owl is breeding, its nest site should never be too closely as at that time the owls are very aggressive and occasionally strike humans; the late Eric Hosking, the famous bird-photographer, lost an eye in a Tawny Owl attack.

When there are no suitable tree holes, Tawny Owls will readily take to large nest boxes; they should only be encouraged where smaller Owls, such as Little Owl (and on the Continent, Tengmalm’s and pygmy owls) are not at risk, as they will readily take the smaller species as prey.

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