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Counting birds you can?t see

Join the Tawny Owl Survey

Everyone knows the call of the Tawny Owl, with its eerie night time associations, but how many owls are there actually in Britain? There is evidence to suggest they are declining but we need a better understanding of their numbers and distribution. We need volunteers across the country to take part in a quick and easy survey this autumn.

The Tawny Owl is the most numerous of five owl species in the UK and is the one most likely to be heard in woodland or suburban areas. Along with the well-known ‘hooting’, both sexes also make shrill ‘kerr-wick, kerr-wick’ calls. Data from the 1989-1991 Breeding Bird Atlas estimated a British population of 20,000 pairs. However, this information is now fifteen years old and more recent evidence from general bird surveys, aimed largely at day-flying birds, suggest that numbers may have fallen by up to a third since 1994. A specific Tawny Owl survey is now needed to establish actual numbers. The best way of estimating numbers of birds that you can’t see is by listening out for their distinctive calls and we need your help to do this.

As part of the BTO Tawny Owl Survey we are looking for volunteers to help in a simple survey this autumn. For participants, the survey involves only twenty minutes per week, listening for Tawny Owls from their house or garden, making this an ideal survey for beginners. “This survey is so easy that it can be done from the comfort of your own bed, listening through an open window or from an armchair on your patio! We are asking for volunteers to record when the owls are calling and the type of calls that are heard. For those people unsure what a Tawny Owl sounds like we have a dedicated ‘Owlaphone’ that you can call to listen to Tawny Owls. Call 01842 762422” says Mike Toms, BTO Garden BirdWatch Coordinator.

You are welcome to join in with this survey at any time between October 2005 and the end of March 2006. All you need to do is contact the Garden BirdWatch Team at the BTO to request a survey form and instructions. This can be done by phone on 01842 750050, by email: owls@bto.org or by writing to Tawny Owl Survey, Garden BirdWatch, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU.

NB - Tawny Owl Facts Tawny Owls normally lay 2-3 eggs which are brooded entirely by the female. They are early nesters, laying their first egg from mid to late March. Tawny Owls typically live for 5 years but the oldest recorded wild individual was 21 years and 5 months old. Tawny Owls set up their territories in the autumn and it is at this time that they are at their most vocal. The well known “hoot” call is mainly given by the male and the ‘kerr-wick, kerr-wick’ call by the female.

4th July 2014