EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST
This week, it is Owls and the Nightjar
There are five owl species in the UK and one Nightjar. Tawny Owls and Long-eared Owls live in woodland. Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls are more open country birds and Little Owls are found in classic parkland and farmland types of habitats. Nightjars are found at insect rich heathlands and woodland edges and rides. All species are predominantly nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), but it is often possible to encounter Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Little Owl in broad daylight (the other three rarely).
The Tawny is the classic owl that everyone knows by its hoot (though not everyone knows that the hot is a Tawny Owl). It is the male that does the long drawn out, quavering hoot, ‘hooooooo [pause] hoo ho-hoo’. Both males and females have a ‘keewick’ call. They are nocturnal, rarely seen in daylight, unless disturbed by scolding birds which find one roosting. Dumpy, rounded, with dark eyes and relatively short rounded wings (compared to the ‘eared’ owls).
Everyone’s favourite owl, the Barn Owl is the white owl members of the public think is a snowy owl. It is also the ‘screech owl’, making hideous, blood curdling calls which are music to birders’ ears. Unmistakably white beneath with a heart-faced (and dark eyed) and delicately patterned grey and buff upperparts, Barnies are often seen hunting by day, on shortish, stiff wings.
Breeding in northern and western young conifer plantations and moors etc, Shorties are much more numerous in winter, when they spread south and east. In good years, when there is a vole abundance, several birds may hunt the same area, often well before the sun sets. Magnificently long-winged with a buoyant rowing wingbeat, SeOs are the harriers of the owl world, patrolling up and down rough grassy fields before pouncing. Note the yellow eyes, heart-face, dark carpal patches and wing tips. Forget about seeing the ‘ears’ though. The most frequently heard call away from the breeding grounds is a Lapwing-like moan or bark.
Usually more nocturnal than Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls are also much more closely associated with dense wooded habitats. The nest in trees and outside the breeding season can sometimes be seen roosting in dense bushes, ivy-covered trees etc, often sharing a roost site with several other birds. Similar in many ways to the Short-eared Owl in appearance, but with a slightly different face patter, and orange eyes and lacking the black wingtips and with a more uniformly streaked body. The ear tufts are usually obvious, especial on disturbed birds, when they are held dead upright. Males and females have soft monosyllabic hoot. The female's sounds a bit like a Collared Doves flight call. Babies squeak like creaking gates!
No bigger than a thrush, the Cute, yellow eyed, dumpy Little Owl is pretty unmistakable. They will often spend the day, mopping up the sun, perched in full view in an old willow or oak on on a barn or quarry face. Mainly crepuscular in feeding habits. Various yelping calls.
Not an owl, but distantly related to owls, the Nightjar is a summer visitor which is a delight to behold. The weird mechanical ‘churring’ song of the male is a joy to the ear and the lighter-than-air buoyant flight is unique among our birds. They may be falcon- or Cuckoo-shaped, but they certainly don’t fly like them. They are tough birds to see well, usually only coming out to play (and catch aerial insects), once the light has become almost too bad to see them at all. Males help matters by singing and also by having white signal flashed on the wings and tail, which helps pick them out of the gloom
All photos from Alamy