Tawny Owl Guide (Strix aluco)

Latest posts by Reina Esser (see all)

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to write the following sentence, but here it goes: I’m spending the month in France birdwatching and eating fresh pain au chocolat. It’s a tough life, as you can imagine, but I’m considering delaying my return to the U.S.

Over the past month spent in the Loire Valley, I’ve seen such beautiful nature. From two-hundred-year-old ginkgo trees to stunning rivers, it’s not difficult to understand why France is the most visited country in the world.

Recently on an evening stroll in the Loire Valley, I heard a nearby owl. It was not a call I was familiar with, and I could not see the bird. I sat where I stood, recording a short snippet and jotting down some notes about my surroundings. I went home to see if I could take a crack at finding out which owls lived in this area. I found this helpful article by Bird Watching H.Q. and listened to all the provided audio until I found my match, the Tawny Owl!

I wish I could’ve seen this adorable owl in its natural habitat, but hearing it was a unique enough treat, and I’m excited to share more about the fascinating lives these birds lead.


The first mention of the Tawny Owl can be found in Systema Naturae, published in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus. Belonging to the family Strigidae, the Tawny Owl is classified with other true owls or typical owls, which encompasses 230 species. Their genus, Strix, is reserved for wood owls or earless owls because they do not have ear tufts. 

Strix aluco has several subspecies that are hard to tell apart. Their most notable difference is visible in the tone of their feathers. Scientists believe the color tones of their habitat cause this subspecies formation.

Tawny Owl subspecies include:

  • S. a. aluco
  • S. a. biddulphi
  • S. a. harmsi
  • S. a. sanctinicolai
  • S. a. siberiae
  • S. a. sylvatica
  • S. a. willkonskii

How to Identify a Tawny Owl

From a young age, most bird lovers can usually differentiate between owls and other birds. They have key features that make them relatively easy to pick out in a bird lineup, but once you hone in on the hundreds of species of owls, you realize you really have no idea how to tell them apart. Just that it is an owl.

This section will help you properly I.D. a Tawny Owl if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse at these nocturnal beauties.

Size & Shape

Considered squat and medium-sized, the Tawny Owl is about 15 to 18 inches long and has broad rounded wings with a wingspan of 32 to 41 inches. Adults typically weigh between 0.8 to 1.8 pounds. Tawny Owls have large round heads; as their genus indicates, they do not have ear tufts. Typical of owls, the Tawny has a sizeable facial disk and huge black eyes on the front of its face. The bill is heavily hooked and yellow in color.

Females are roughly 25% larger than males and have significantly longer tails as well. This makes for quick gender identification if you see a mated pair.

Great Grey Owls, Ural Owls, and Eagle Owls have a similar shape to Tawny Owls, but they are considerably larger.


The plumage of a Tawny Owl can vary based on its geographical location, but the most common morphs are rufous-brown and grey-brown. Whichever the morph, this color takes over their upper parts.

The tails of Tawny Owls are lightly barred. Their shoulder feathers have white spots, although these markings are absent on their inner primary feathers.

Their underparts are white with brown streaks. From their bill to the top of their head, a dark brown streak occurs between their eyes, defining their facial disk.

To differentiate between juveniles and adults, note that younger birds will appear paler than adults.


Understanding the mannerisms of an owl can significantly aid you in the identification process. Tawny Owls take off for flight in a slow manner. As they reach their desired height, which is typically higher than other owls in its range, they soar throat the forest with only a few wingbeats in a straight path.

Where Does a Tawny Owl Live: Habitat


western Siberia

Tawny Owls are non-migratory birds with a vast range from Europe to Great Britain, from the eastern Iberian Peninsula to western Siberia. They are absent from Ireland and northern Scotland.


Open deciduous forests, woodlands, agricultural areas, and wooded urban and suburban gardens with access to water are just a few of the Tawny Owls’ preferred habitats. They will also take up residence in urban parks and cemeteries. The highest density of this species’ occurrence is in deciduous woodlands with broad-leaved trees. They do not occur at elevations greater than 9,200 feet.

Tawny Owls are most likely to take up residency in a quiet atmosphere, so they are probably on the outskirts of town in most urban areas. In my case, I heard one while I was walking through a prairie with many trees and a nearby river. The area was a nature preserve and park in a french village, but it remains relatively quiet day and night.

Territories within dense woodlands range between 30 to 175 acres. Their territory is expanded to encompass 225 acres in areas with fewer food sources.

Tawny Owl Diet and Feeding


The perks of living in the woodland forest are the availability of food. In urban habitats, popular menu items include mallards and kittiwake. Tawny Owls are carnivores and have a varied diet of prey consisting of small mammals, amphibians, worms, rabbits, and birds. Most hunting occurs from dusk to dawn; however, females with young will sometimes hunt during the day to feed their chicks.

The hunting strategy of a Tawny Owl involves perching patiently and waiting for an opportune moment to transition into an effortless gliding flight. They attack the prey on the ground and kill it using their feet and claws, sometimes utilizing their hooked beaks throughout the process.

Other effective hunting methods practiced by the Tawny Owl include rapidly beating their wings to startle birds and cause them to take flight. Then, the fearsome predator will take their hunt to the skies. This bird will fly over farmlands, grasslands, and marshes like hawks. When doing so, the Tawny Owl is searching for tasty bats and vulnerable incubating birds.

Owls are known for their ability to consume whole prey. They swallow the entire thing… it’s insane. Their bodies are specialized to do this and will later regurgitate the bits that cannot be digested in the form of pellets. You can find fur, bones, teeth, and insect shells in an owl pellet.

Owls have two stomachs. The glandular stomach takes in all of the good stuff from an owl’s recent meal and liquifies it, sending it to the muscular stomach. Then, the muscular stomach grinds down the rough stuff and sends the digestible food to the intestines. A pellet of mostly fur, teeth, and bones is compacted in the stomach and later regurgitated. If you come upon an owl’s territory, look for a pile of pellets on the ground! Much like you might have a favorite bathroom in your house, the owl has its preferred pellet perch, where it regurgitates pellets once daily.

Pellets look like dead rodents and can vary in color based on the species of owl and its diet. Tawny Owl pellets are pale gray and crumbly. They are 20 to 50 mm long.

One of my favorite teachers in elementary school gave us owl pellets to dissect. It was so fascinating to me to discover the story of this bird’s life through its stomach. It made such an impression on me and grossed out most of our parents. As an adult, this is an activity that would still fascinate me!

Tawny Owl Breeding

baby Tawny Owl

Once a Tawny Owl reaches one year old, it begins the process of searching for its forever mate. Yes, they’re monogamous and stick with their boo for life.

From October to November, male Tawny Owls choose and defend their territory against potential threats while females find premier nesting holes. Perched perfectly camouflaged, on branches closest to the trunk of a tree, the birds will roost separately from July to October.

The final territory is decided as winter approaches and preparations for the breeding season begin. The first step is to move in together. Once roosting together, courtship feeding takes place, and males will perch near a female. He displays his worthiness by bobbing up and down and swaying side to side. Raising each wing, he looks as large as possible by puffing his feathers. He gets closer to the female while grunting and putting his wings together. The female will accept the male by puffing her own feathers, screeching, and quivering. Truly a love story for the ages.

Tawny Owl Nesting

The pair of Tawny Owls will breed from January to July, with nesting occurring in February in southern ranges and mid-March in northern ranges. Common nesting sites are tree holes, squirrel dreys, abandoned nests, cliffs, nesting boxes, or even holes in buildings.

Tawny Owl Eggs

Mama bird will incubate her eggs for the next 30 days. The female will lay 2 to 3 eggs per clutch. However, as many as nine eggs can be laid. Their eggs are glossy, white, and about 2 inches by 1.5 inches in size.

After 35 to 40 days of dedicated feeding and attention, the Tawny Owl nestlings are ready to fledge. Once hatched, the chicks are altricial and covered in white down. Parents take care of their young for a few months after they fledge to show them the ropes. As summer closes in, juveniles are expected to disperse and find their own territory by November.

Older parents have more successful broods than first-timers since they are more experienced hunters and can account for their own needs throughout the process. Young parents’ bodies require ample nutrients and attention to survive, which reduces their focus on the brood.

Under no circumstances should you interfere with the nest of a Strix owl, or any owl for that matter. These birds relentlessly keep their nestlings safe and have been known to attack dogs, cats, and humans gruesomely. They use their sharp claws to strike the head of their prey.

Tawny Owl Population

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owls have a stable population and are rated as a Least Concern species by IUCN. The total population is estimated to be one to three million, with a breeding population of 535,000 to 939,000 pairs.

Is the Tawny Owl Endangered?

The Tawny Owl is not endangered, but population threats include collisions with automobiles, power lines, hunting, and using pesticides on rodents.

The Tawny Owl is amber-listed as a species of conservation concern in the United Kingdom due to decreasing population numbers. The population decline is attributed to range declines and unsuccessful breeding.

Tawny Owl Behavior

The Tawny Owl is nocturnal but can be seen exhibiting a little bit of daytime activity from time to time. They hunt between dusk and dawn. Their intense binocular vision makes nighttime hunting a breeze. A Tawny Owl’s huge black eyes are located on the front of its head and have a field of vision overlap of 50 to 70%. The size and shape of their eyes give them more advantageous vision than other birds.

This owl’s hearing is ten times better than a human’s hearing! Their ears, while not tufted, are located on the side of the head underneath the facial disk in an asymmetrical format. This grants the owl the gift of directional hearing, which enhances the ability to hunt at night.

Listen for the call of a Tawny Owl that is commonly heard throughout its range. Being from the United States, I had never heard it, but after talking to some fellow birdwatches, they immediately knew the shrill “ke-wick” as the Tawny Owl.

Tawny Owl Predators

northern goshawks

Few predators dare engage with the Tawny Owl, but medium-sized raptors like northern goshawks and vultures and other owls like eagle owls and Ural owls have been known to attack. Common nest predators are weasel-like pine martens and stone martens. Red foxes will attack fledging birds and contribute to high mortality rates of young within the species.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to providing nesting boxes for owls in urban environments. It makes nests obvious for predators to find. Placing boxes in camouflaged areas and safely painting them may help avoid this result. Be sure to research the safest areas to hang an owl box and keep up with seasonal maintenance.

Tawny Owl Lifespan

While 36% of fledglings die within 55 days of moving out of their parent’s nest, the average lifespan of the Tawny Owl is four years old. In captivity, this bird can live for 27 years.

When a juvenile cannot claim territory, they will often go hungry and starve to death. In adults, the average survival rate is 73.8%, while for juveniles, the survival rate is just 30%. Sometimes learning this information makes me sad, but it’s just the way of nature.


Question: What is special about a tawny owl?

Answer: There are many things that make the Tawny Owl a spectacular species! Not only are they fantastic hunters, but they are fierce defenders of their territories and young. Bird ringers wear protective gear when banding nestlings to avoid dangerous encounters with their parents.

Question: Are tawny owls common in UK?

Answer: Tawny Owls are the most common owl species in the U.K. However, they are an amber-listed species of conservation concern.

Question: Where do tawny owls live UK?

Answer: Tawny Owls can be found in England, Wales, and some parts of Scotland. They do not occur in Ireland.

Question: What is the lifespan of a tawny owl?

Answer: The average lifespan of a Tawny Owl in the wild is four years. In captivity, this bird can live up to 27 years.

Research Citations

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