Tawny owl -- 灰林鸮 (Strix aluco)

Tawny owl in flight
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The characteristic ‘twit-twooo’ of the tawny owl is actually a courtship duet between male and female.
  • Male and female tawny owl pairs often stay together for life.
  • The inedible fur and bones left-over from the tawny owl’s diet of small mammals are regurgitated as ‘owl pellets’.
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Tawny owl fact file

Tawny owl description

GenusStrix (1)

The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is the most common and widespread British owl (3). It is most often heard than seen; it produces a variety of vocalisations, including the familiar 'ke-wick' contact calls (6). It has a compact body and a large rounded head, and varies in colour from greyish to reddish brown with black and white streaks (2). The sexes are similar in appearance (2).

Wingspan: 81-96 cm (2)
Length: 37-43 cm (2)

Tawny owl biology

Tawny owls feed mainly on small mammals such as voles, as well as insects. They occupy a favourite perch, dropping onto prey that passes by; inedible remains such as fur and bones in the form of 'owl pellets' gather below these perches (3).

Pairs begin to form territories in the autumn; this involves much hooting and calling, and males occasionally clap their wings together in a form of display (3). Nesting usually takes place in holes in hollow trees, although abandoned crow nests may be used (3). In March or early April, between two and four white eggs are laid. These are incubated by the female for up to 30 days. The male takes charge of feeding the young, who fledge after 32 to 37 days (3).


Tawny owl range

The tawny owl is widespread and numerous throughout Britain, but becomes scarce in north Scotland (7). It occurs across the Palaearctic from Spain to China, reaching as far south as North Africa (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Tawny owl habitat

Typically occurs in broad-leaved or mixed woodland, but will also inhabit trees in hedgerows, parkland, churchyards, farmland, and coniferous forests (3). In winter it may take shelter in disused buildings and rock cavities (7).


Tawny owl status

The tawny owl is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is common and widespread (3). Protected at all times under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (4). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (5).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Tawny owl threats

The British population of the tawny owl is not currently threatened.


Tawny owl conservation

Specific conservation action has not been targeted at the tawny owl.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the tawny owl:

For more information on the tawny owl and other bird species:



Information authenticated by the RSPB:



To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Palaearctic region
The region that includes Europe, the part of Asia to the north of the Himalayan-Tibetan barrier, North Africa and most of Arabia.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  4. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  5. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
  6. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.

Image credit

Tawny owl in flight  
Tawny owl in flight

© Mark Hamblin / gettyimages.com

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