In the UK there are 6 native species of Owl. Two of these species are doing really well but the others are declining or a very low numbers in the wild. There is also another species living and breeding in the UK – but is not classified as a British species of Owl.
This is probably the most recognisable owl species we have, not to see, but is recognised by the well known ‘twit-twoo’ hoot. This species is mostly at home in woodland habitats but has adapted very well to farmland and more especially parkland areas, and even larger parks within cities. The Tawny Owl is the most common in the UK, due to its ability to adapt to man’s changing environment.
This species is the smallest UK Owl and is generally found in farmland areas. They are mostly insectivorous but also feeds on small mammals and birds. These were originally introduced from Europe to the UK in the 1890’s to Buckinghamshire by Lord Lilford and have spread through England and Wales. They are mainly a diurnal species. The Little Owl population peaked around 1930 following their introduction, but have since declined a little due to loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, persecution and collisions with the ever increasing traffic on the roads.
The Barn Owl is probably the most well known owl species in the UK, with its white underside it is unmistakeable flying low hunting over fields. This species has suffered over the past 60 years due to habitat changes and the influence of man. The UK population was estimated at 12,500 pairs in 1932, by 1985 it had drastically reduced to around 3,000 to 3,500.
Over the past 20 years and more many people and organisations have set up nestboxes within barns and in trees to increase the number of potential nesting sites. Set aside has helped a little in increasing the number of rodents for food, and also by encouraging farmers to leave larger field margins along hedgerows. The major problem is the roads, where many low flying Barn Owls get struck by cars or lorries. As their food is mostly near hedgerows, they are very often close to country lanes hunting and do not realise the danger of lights coming towards them.
The Short-eared owl is generally a ground-nesting species and often active during the day. They are typically found in moorland or rough heathland in the summer and more widely found in hilly country and over marshland in winter. Throughout the world the Short-eared owl has spread and exploits many islands where they have adapted to hunt and live in that particular environment. Diet consists of small mammals, such as short-tailed voles, as well as small birds.
The Long-Eared Owl is slightly smaller than the Short-eared. They are generally found in small patches of woodland, especially conifer plantations, but avoid the centre of dense woodland. These owls are found on farmland, parks and large gardens. They nest in abandoned nests of other birds such as magpies and crows. They are generally only active at night.
The Snowy Owl is classified as a British species but was during the 1970s that it last bred in the UK, some birds still migrate here in the winter. Mainly due to climate change that this species has left the country – is too hot to breed during the summer months.
This species is not a British Owl but has been recorded breeding for the past 5 or 6 years in the UK. It is believed that they were once resident but following persecution were made extinct from the UK. The original pair breeding in Yorkshire were both escapees from captivity, but it highly likely birds could recolonise from mainland Europe naturally.