Start of breeding season for owls

Barn owl
Barn owl

A couple of days ago I was just leaving work, about an hour after sunset, when I heard the distinct call of a tawny owl. This was a pleasant surprise – we don’t keep tawny owls at Flamingo Land, so this must have been a wild one. Tawny owls are very easy to recognise by their call, as they are the only owl that really goes tu-whit, tu-whoo! It’s possible to hear them calling at any time of year but the New Year marks the start of the breeding season, so it’s a very good time to listen out for them.

Tawny owls are primarily a woodland species, with short wings that allow them to manoeuvre easily amongst the trees. They hunt at night and spend the day roosting in a tree. It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to spot my tawny owl at Flamingo Land during the day because their camouflage is superb – their mottled brown feathers look just like tree bark. However, you never know, and if this male (it was definitely a male because they’re the ones that go tu-whoo) is lucky enough to attract a mate, there could be owlets at Flamingo Land this spring! Owlets can be slightly easier to spot, as they will sit on branches while they still have their fluffy juvenile feathers, which don’t provide such good camouflage as the adult plumage.

Of course, the best way to see owls at Flamingo Land is to come along to our Bird Show, which takes place several times each day in high season. The Bird Show staff look after an eagle owl and several barn owls. Although these birds aren’t on display all the time, they make regular appearances in the Bird Show, along with more exotic species such as parrots and sacred ibis.

Eagle owls are the largest owls found in Britain. They have a two-metre wingspan and are capable of hunting rabbits, hares and even young deer! They have distinctive ear-tufts on top of their heads and their eyes are bright orange. Barn owls are much smaller than eagle owls and are mainly white in colour. They will often hunt at dusk and can have quite a ghostly appearance, gliding over fields in search of their prey. If you’ve ever seen an owl at night that looked very white, it will almost certainly have been a barn owl. They eat mice, voles and shrews and as their name suggests, they like to roost and nest in buildings.