Tawny owl (Strix aluco)

GenusStrix (1)
SizeWingspan: 81-96 cm (2)
Length: 37-43 cm (2)
Top facts

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).

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).

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).

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 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).

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

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

For more information on the tawny owl:

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

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  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.