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Why Owls Hoot Loudest in Autumn

We have five species of owl living in mainland Britain, but at this time of year you could be forgiven for thinking there is only one.

Tawny Owls Hoot Loudest in Autumn

Tawny owls make more noise than the other four species put together during October and November. And all this extra shrieking, hooting and ‘kee-wick’- ing is down to one thing: territory. Young birds are reaching maturity and looking for new homes while older birds are fighting to hold on to their patch.

tawny owl painting
Tawny Owl on the Lookout |Limited Edition Print | Click to Buy
tawny owl hoots
The model for my painting almost lost an eye
Tawny Owls Are Devoted Parents – Until Autumn

Ordinarily, adult tawny owls are devoted parents. They spend much of the summer months rearing, feeding, and nurturing. This care even continues for weeks after the young have fledged. But in autumn there is a brutal change. The devotion turns to aggression and the adult birds round on their once-beloved young with sudden malice. They shriek at them, fly at them and chase them out of their territory.

Tawny Owl Evictions are Brutal

I have seen one juvenile so badly battered he had cuts that stretched from his face to his feet. The beautiful tawny owl model in my painting, above, was a victim of just such a vicious attack. I was very disappointed when I saw him one day with his eye so badly damaged.  

Young Tawny Owls Hoot For New Territories

And, as if this isn’t enough, the young owls are then pushed from one owl’s domain to another during their search for a place to set up home. Even when these young male owls hoot to try and attract a mate, they end up alerting adult owls to their presence and get short shrift for daring to encroach on established territory.

tawny owls at nightTawny Owl Nest Box

Some time ago, in order to study these secretive birds close up for a picture I was planning for my winter exhibition, I put a nest box up in a line of sycamore trees about 90 yards from my home and gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire. The box was taken up almost immediately by a handsome pair. Originally woodland birds, tawny owls have adopted new and more open habitat, often muscling in on the traditional haunts of the barn owl.

Tawny Owls are Versatile Hunters

Tawny owls are extremely versatile hunters, which is why they are so successful. Britain is home to around 100,000 pairs. Their diet largely consists of small mammals like wood mice, but they will eat almost anything they can catch. Birds, frogs, fish, worms, large insects and small rabbits are all on the menu. They will even scavenge roadkill. I decided to take advantage of this latter habit and began to put mice and road-kill pheasant on my bird table at night.

Feeding Tawny Owls

More traditional seed mixes were still available for my common garden birds by day. The ploy proved more successful than I had expected. As well as attracting the tawny owl couple, I have also attracted kestrels and barn owls. These birds of prey now feed just nine metres from my kitchen window, which makes photographing them much easier.

Watching the Tawny Owls from my Hide

I am used to watching my wildlife subjects cramped in a hide, halfway up a tree, in the freezing cold. But now I can study these birds from the comfort of my kitchen – although my wife used to complain that the house was a bit on the chilly side as I often used to keep the window open most of the night so that I could photograph them. I’ve since built a hide closer to the table – and even a tunnel to reach the hide so that I can go directly from my living room to the hide without alerting the birds to my presence.

Click here to read how I build hides

Building a Tawny Owl Alert System

I’ve also put in infrared sensors that beep to announce the arrival of a visitor. And the birds don’t seem to mind a 500w security light that I rigged up with a dimmer switch so that I can see them better at night. Illuminated, it is fascinating to watch the owls interacting with each other. And these days the tawny owls are so used to me I can actually get up quite close.

photographing tawny owls on my bird table
Photographing Tawny Owls on my Bird Table
Tawny Owl vs Barn Owl – Who Knew?

Unusually, the first year I watched it was the barn owl that seemed to be in charge at my bird table. It’s a much smaller bird and is outnumbered at my bird table two to one. I have seen tawny owls attacking barn owls before, but this Yorkshire Wolds barn owl must be tougher than the lowland birds I have watched.

Tawny Owls Are Demanding Lovers
tawny owl with chick
A Tawny Owl Chick Begs from its Parent

Last week I switched on the light to see the tawny owl pair sharing a post and preening one another. This tenderness is something I’d never before witnessed. Normally the female snatches the male’s food from him even though there is plenty for both of them. Sensibly, he always gives way, although not without an angry hoot and a screech.

My Garden Is Now Tawny Owl Territory

My new ‘bird of prey feeding station’ is now a key part of the tawny owls’ territory and they defend it fiercely from others. In fact, this bird table is now well established and the novelty of feeding birds of prey by night and garden birds by day was featured on BBC1s The One Show.

Read about the story behind the film here.

Tawny Owl’s Noisy Fights

I’m often woken at this time of year with violent fights on our rooftop. It makes me feel a little sorry for the young interlopers who are only trying to make their own way in life. But I don’t expect they stand a chance against this well-bonded pair. On still, frosty nights, the male’s hoots ring out down the valley and are often answered by neighbouring owls and interrupted by the bark of a fox or the eerie screech of a barn owl.

My Collection of Tawny Owl Paintings

Scroll down to see all my paintings of tawny owls. For more information and prices click on the pictures.

Tawny Owl Painting
Watchful Tawny Owl | Limited Edition Art Print | Buy Now
Tawny Owl Chick Painting
Tawny Owl Chick | Available as a Bespoke Art Print | Enquire Here
tawny owl painting
Three Tawny Owls | Limited Edition Art Print | Buy Now

tawny owl print
Tawny Owl on the Lookout | Limited Edition Print | Buy Now


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