Why don’t tawny owls call every night?

BBC Wildlife contributor Mike Toms answers your wild question. 

Tawny owl

Tawny owl © Mark Bridger


The familiar ‘hooo hu huhuhuhooo’ of the male tawny owl, which is often answered by the female’s ‘keewik’, is typically heard from late summer to February.

Tawny calling behaviour varies throughout the year, but is most pronounced in autumn, when owls are re-establishing their territories and newly independent youngsters are settling into their patches. The more neighbours an owl has, the more frequently it calls, particularly if those neighbours are new. This demonstrates that the owls can recognise other birds on the basis of their call structure.

Tawny calling is also influenced by other factors such as temperature and weather conditions. Some years ago, I conducted research into the behaviour using data collected by a network of 3,500 citizen scientists across the UK. I discovered that the birds were more likely to call on warmer evenings and when a greater proportion of the moon was visible (moon phase has been linked to activity in other nocturnal birds). The tawnies were less vocal on cloudy nights, and there were also strong seasonal patterns.


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