Volunteers needed to lend an ear to tawny owl study

Tawny coming to land Pic: Laurence Liddy

Tawny coming to land Pic: Laurence Liddy - Credit: Archant

Wildlife enthusiasts from East Anglia are being asked to take part in a national study of tawny owls, so experts can get a better idea of the bird’s population and how factors such as urbanisation and light pollution are affecting this night-time hunter.

The British Trust for Ornithology is asking members of the public to monitor tawny owl calling behaviour, by listening out for them this autumn and winter. The Trust says a new study is urgently needed because tawny owl populations are thought to have declined since the last survey over a decade ago and the species has recently been added to the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern drawn up by the UK’s leading bird conservation organisations.

Anyone can participate - keeping an ear out for this most distinctive of owl calls from their garden, a local park or piece of woodland.

Survey organiser at the BTO Claire Boothby said: “You can listen from pretty much anywhere you like for 20 minutes one evening a week. Anyone can take part and the more people that do the better picture scientists at BTO will have of our tawny owls - you can even do it from the comfort of your bed.”

Participants are asked to decide on a location and register online. The survey runs from September 30 2018 to March 31 2019 and those taking part don’t have to commit to listening every week, but they’ll be providing valuable data by recording for as many weeks as they can. If people don’t hear a tawny owl from their location, that detail is also important to the BTO.

A tawny owl couple Pic: Laurence Liddy

A tawny owl couple Pic: Laurence Liddy - Credit: Archant

You may also want to watch:

More information on tawny owls in East Anglia would be useful where data for the three counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex is pretty scant.

The BTO says that while tawny owl is reported as being common and widespread in all three counties, breeding evidence is thin on the ground. For instance, only five breeding pairs were noted in Suffolk in 2016 while Essex reports the 10-year average number of tawnies in the county as being 157 birds with evidence of breeding being worryingly low. It is a similar picture in Norfolk, with only 18 confirmed breeding pairs in 2016.

Most Read

The tawny owl is arguably our best known owl and is reliant on vocalisations, using them to show ownership of a breeding territory, as well as attracting a mate and reinforcing a pair bond. Most people will probably recognise the ‘twit-twoo’ call uttered in harmony by a pair of tawny owls - the call of the female is an eerie ‘kewick’ and that of the male in reply is a shivering, ‘whoo’. Put together and you get ‘kewick-whoo’ or put another way, ‘twit-twoo’.

But despite our familiarity with these birds, we know little about the impacts of urbanisation on their behaviour. The BTO hopes this new study will shed some light on the subject as well as the seasonal changes in tawny owl calling behaviour more generally.

A tawny owl perched Pic: Laurence Liddy

A tawny owl perched Pic: Laurence Liddy - Credit: Archant

The hope is this work will build on information collected by the impressive 3,465 volunteers who took part in a similar study in 2005/06, when it was found that the time of day, the moon cycle and weather influenced tawny owl calling behaviour.

To register to participate in the study visit www.bto.org/owls or email gbw@bto.org for more information.

Tawny owl Pic: Russell Savory

Tawny owl Pic: Russell Savory - Credit: Russell Savory

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter