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Wild Tawny Owls Adopt After Their Clutch Almost Fails

In the valley below my gallery three tawny owl chicks make their way through a line of sycamore trees, flitting from branch to branch.fostering tawny owls

They are heading towards my garden bird table, where the adult tawny owls tear up portions of food to feed to them one by one.

Tawny Owls are excellent parents

These birds are excellent parents, even though only one of the three owlets is actually their own chick.  The other two are foundlings that I added to their nest last month in the hope the adult owls would raise them as their own. So far the plan is working well and it is a joy to watch the family of five owls every evening as they drift through the darkening sky above my gallery in Thixendale.

fostering tawny owls

They have adopted two chicks after losing their own


The sight is all the more heartening when you consider that I almost lost the adult female owl this spring.  She fell dangerously ill shortly before she was due to lay. When I first noticed her lying motionless on the nest floor, her head facing out of the nest entrance, I wondered if she was egg bound.

The female tawny owl almost died this year

I had seen her labouring as if to try to push out an egg, and this seemed the most plausible explanation. But when she continued to lie on the floor of the nest day after day, I feared the worst. It was very distressing to watch. I could see her via cameras hidden inside her nest box, a large construction made from an old beech stump.

Click on the image above to watch the story on my tawny owl nest camera film

The male kept returning to the nest wearing a quizzical expression as if wondering where their clutch was. Over the years this tawny owl pair has raised generations of chicks in my garden as well as fostering a number of foundling owlets and I was very sad at the prospect of losing one.

Then one night she stood up, unsteadily, in the nest. The following day, she wasn’t in the box. I went off looking for her, expecting to find her on the ground, too weak to fly. I located her in another nest box, this one made from an old ash stump and also rigged up with hidden cameras.

She contracted a deadly owl disease

I could see her on-screen opening and closing her beak as if gasping for air. This behaviour suggested that, rather than being egg-bound, she was possibly suffering from Frounce, a yeast infection of the digestive tract. This debilitating condition is transmitted by eating infected birds and initially manifests itself by white spots around the mouth or crop.

But she made a miraculous recovery

At this, I abandoned any hope of the tawny owls breeding this year and was doubtful whether the female would survive at all. But then, to my amazement, the female returned to her original nest box, Beech Stump, having seemingly made a full recovery.

fostering tawny owls

And went on to lay three eggs

And when, three weeks later, she went on to lay her first egg, I felt a surge of pride to see her stand up tall and majestically fluff out her feathers to reveal her precious white egg.

When her mate came into the nest, she swivelled her head towards him before coyly lifting up to reveal the egg. She filled her throat pouch with air, threw her head back and let out a heart-warming, choked-up screech, as if to say ‘look, we’ve done it!’ So when she went on to lay another two eggs, it felt like a miracle had taken place. She incubated all three eggs for a total of 32 days, but sadly only one hatched.

Only one egg hatched

When it became apparent that this precious chick was going to be the only owlet in the nest, I noticed the female become quite protective. She rarely left the nest and over the following few days remained very guarded over her solitary chick, spending most of her time brooding it. As a result, I only got very short glimpses of the newly-hatched chick.

This led to over-protective parents

It was quite funny when she eventually lifted off because the tiny chick immediately tumbled backwards without the support of its mother’s body. But in time the adult female began to spend more time away from the nest and I  got to see this special little tawny owl chick, with its fluffy downy feathers.

The tawny owls spoiled their only chick with treats

One of the reasons tawny owls are so successful is that they have such a varied diet. During this period the parent birds brought in mice, voles and young rats. The female even brought in a young frog one wet evening. 

I added two extra chicks to the nest

As the tawny owlet grew close to the point of fledging, I was handed two foundling tawny chicks by Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation, a charity I work closely alongside to help release animals and birds back into the wild.fostering tawny owl chick fostering tawny owl chicks

I placed them gently into the nest next to the only, astonished, chick. The two foundlings were also just at the point of fledging and flew out of the nest to a nearby branch that very evening.

The adult birds quickly adopted the new chicks

Thankfully the adult birds cannot count and when the male returned with some food for its chick it responded to the calls from the foundlings and simply fed all three. It seems fitting that this pair originally laid three eggs and have ended up caring for three chicks after all.

And for me, it feels like a miracle that the adult female survived her ordeal and is happily caring for a new brood.

Read More

Click here to read about how my tawny owl foster programme began

Click here to follow my Tawny Owl Nest Camera blog, where I update the latest films from inside this owl nest.

Also follow my Barn Owl Nest Camera Blog

And my Peregrine Nest Camera Blog

My Tawny Owl Paintings

Tawny Owl Art Prints

Below is my collection of tawny owl paintings inspired by watching the owls in my garden.

Watchful Tawny Owl | Limited Edition Print | Click for Info


tawny owl print
Tawny Owl on the Lookout | Limited Edition Print | Click for Info


tawny owl art print
Three Tawny Owls | Limited Edition Print | Click for Info


The Owl Art Collection

I also paint barn owls and little owls.

Click here to see my collection of owl paintings and read the stories behind the birds in the paintings.

You may also be interested in my owl art gifts, a collection of beautiful homeware and gifts featuring my best-selling owl art prints.

Click here to see the full collection of luxury owl art gifts.


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