Who's Whooo?

© Rebecca Hitchcock

Set out into the gloaming this winter and you may hear some unusual sounds... but t'woo is making all the noise?

Owls are becoming increasingly vocal as winter sets in. They are serenading potential mates and warning off intruders, and for many species, the noisier they are the better they perform. So, should you set out into the gloaming, you may hear some rather unusual noises.

Here are some species to listen out for…

Barn owl

© Tony Matthews

Barn Owl

The best time to look out for barn owls is just after sunset when they’re out hunting for small mammals like voles and shrews. It can be tricky to spot them in the winter, but if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of one flying silently over a grassy field.  Listen out for their unmistakable, blood curdling screech – it’ll make your hairs stand on end!

Tawny owl as part of a raptor display at Blashford Lakes

© Lianne de Mello

Tawny Owl

Tawny owls are not only our largest owl, they are also the most common – there are 50,000 pairs in Britain! Their famous t’wit t’woo call is very distinctive, but it is a little known fact that it takes two owls to make the sound. The well-known call is made my two owls talking to each other. Usually, a male will t’woo, and a female t’wits in response. Tawny owls like woodland habitats, so if you’re hoping to hear one, head for a thick cluster of trees.

Short eared owl © John Hilton

Short eared owl © John Hilton

Short-Eared Owl

This is the owl you’re most likely to see in the daytime. They fly slowly and close to the ground on creamy brown and white wings, usually over marshy areas on the coast. Some of them fly all the way from Russia to spend their winters in the UK, and a few cheeky owls hop aboard passing ships and hitch a ride across the sea! Farlington Marshes nature reserve near Portsmouth is a great place to see them.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Britain’s smallest owl was introduced to the UK in Victorian times by wealthy landowners who thought they would be a useful addition to our native fauna. This pocket predator can be spotted during the day, hunting in fields for tasty creepy-crawlies - they run along the grass chasing after beetles, and often topple over when trying to pull worms from the soil. These comical little birds have a mewling call, and if you heard one without seeing it you could be forgiven for thinking it was a cat stuck up a tree!