6 Owl Species That Live in the United Kingdom! (2022)
What types of owls can you see in the United Kingdom?
The above question is common, so I thought I’d help by making a list of all the individual owl species that live in the United Kingdom.
The temptation to intersperse this entire article with puns is almost overwhelming. I could just wing it and beak-off about these birds all day long, but I really do give a hoot, and soon you would be talon me to stop it. Ok, settle down because that is owl you get. 🙂
Below is a list of all the owl species you can find in the United Kingdom.
#1. Short-eared Owl
- Asio flammeus
- Adults typically range from 34 to 43 centimeters long with a wingspan of 85 to 103 centimeters.
- Their coloring is mottled cream and dark brown, with lighter coloring under their wings.
- This species has yellow eyes, a gray beak, and a defined facial disk.
This mid-sized tawny-brown mottled owl is widely distributed across the United Kingdom. These birds mostly hunt in the daytime when voles, their favorite meal, are active. Interestingly, they are one of the most common owls you can see during daylight hours!
Short-eared Owls are typically found in open country. Your best chance to spot them in the United Kingdom is at dusk or dawn in fields, grasslands, meadows, or even airports.
These owls build their nests on the ground in open areas. If obliged to flee its nest to draw off a threat, the parent will poop on the eggs so that the smell will keep predators away. Short-eared Owls also lure enemies away from their nest by hopping away and pretending to be crippled.
Short-eared Owls are not particularly vocal. But when they do make noises, these birds have a call, oddly enough, that sounds an awful lot like a cat looking for a mate. LISTEN BELOW!
#2. Long-eared Owl
- Asio otus
- Adults typically range from 31 to 40 centimeters long with a wingspan of 86 to 102 centimeters.
- The body is barred shades of brown and cream, with a gray and light brown face.
- This species has bright orange eyes, a black beak, and long ear tufts, which is where it gets its name.
Long-eared Owls are also known as the Cat Owl because of their cat-like facial features. They are secretive and roost in very dense foliage. Combined with their excellent camouflage, these owls are tough to spot in the United Kingdom!
As you can see, these owls get their name from the long tufts of feathers on their heads. These ear tufts resemble exclamation points, so Long-eared Owls often seem like they have a surprised look on their face.
Amongst owls, these guys are unique by being quite sociable. They are known to live in clusters and even share roosts!
Since Long-eared Owls can be incredibly hard to see, the best way to locate them is to listen! During the mating season, males are pretty talkative. Their typical call is repeated 10 to 200 times and sounds like a low “hoo,” evenly spaced every few seconds.
#3. Tawny Owl
- Strix aluco
- Adults are typically 38 to 46 centimeters long with a wingspan of 81 to 104 centimeters.
- Grayish-brown upperparts, underparts are whitish streaked with brown, wings and feathers are barred in shades of tawny brown and tipped with white.
- They have a pale olive-yellow beak, huge bluish-black eyes, and a dark-rimmed facial disc.
Tawny owls prefer deciduous and mixed forests with access to water. However, these owls occur in urban areas, particularly with patches of natural forest and wooded habitats! You can even spot them in cemeteries, gardens, and parks.
As nocturnal hunters, Tawny Owls remain silent on perches and glide down on unsuspecting prey. Woodland rodents make up most of their diet, but they also eat young rabbits, birds, frogs, lizards, crustaceans, earthworms, and beetles. Tawny Owls in urban environments prey on birds more frequently since they’re easier to come by than other animals.
Tawny Owls mate for life and have a unique courtship that involves “moving in” together! From July to October, the pair will roost separately during the day. As fall changes to winter, mates will spend more and more time roosting together near their nest site.
Like other owls in the United Kingdom, Tawny Owls have a distinctive voice. The males use a hooting call to mark territory and announce themselves to females during mating. Males and females also use a piercing “coo-wik” cry to express aggression and a shorter contact call that sounds like “kewick.”
#4. Little Owl
- Athene noctua
- Adults are around 22 centimeters in length with a wingspan of 56 centimeters.
- Their coloring is mixed white and dark brown, and their tail feathers are dark brown with whitish or pale ochre bars.
- The beak is grayish-green to yellowish-gray, eyes are sulfur-yellow, and the well-defined facial disc is grayish-brown with light mottling.
Little Owls in the United Kingdom occupy a wide range of habitats.
They prefer open country with stands of trees and bushes, but they can be found in rocky areas, farmlands, parklands, rivers and creeks, and woodland fringes.
Little Owls wait patiently on perches for their prey and then swoop down on them. However, they also hop around on the ground, pecking in search of food. They feed mainly on insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers, small reptiles, frogs, mammals, and birds.
Little Owls have the most extensive range and population of any owl in the United Kingdom! Because of their prevalence, they are considered a species of least concern. However, many individuals are hit by vehicles at night. They also lose large numbers during harsh, snowy winters.
In mating and for communication, these owls give a fluted, nasal call repeated at intervals of several seconds. When they are excited, the call is more explosive and cat-like and sounds like “kweeo.” Both sexes make a series of piercing notes like “kwiff-kwiff-kwiff-kwiff” when disturbed. Listen for these calls during dusk, when Little Owls are most active.
#5. Barn Owl
- Tyto alba
- Adults typically range from 29 to 44 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1 to 1.25 meters.
- The coloring is pale cream to white with dark wings. The belly is sometimes speckled dark down, and the wings are barred when in flight.
- Its eyes are black, and the beak is pale gray. The facial disc is prominent, pale white, and outlined with dark brown.
Barn Owls (aka Church Owl, Ghost Owl, and Monkey-faced Owl) have a sandy-colored heart-shaped face with a dark brown edge. Interestingly, the shape of an owl’s face steers sound to their ears, which helps make them the most efficient hunter-by-sound ever tested. Their hearing is so good that they can quickly locate small animals under dense bush or snow, and they even hunt bats!
Barn Owls are non-migratory and found in the United Kingdom year-round.
These nocturnal creatures tend to inhabit abandoned barns (hence the name). Farmers love them because they keep surrounding property fairly rodent-free, protecting other animals from the diseases that mice and rats carry.
They do not “hoot” in the classical fashion of other owls.
Their unique screechy sound is far more reminiscent of a hawk. When showing off for a female, males will sometimes clap their wings together a couple of times while flying.
#6. Snowy Owl
- Bubo scandiacus
- Adults typically range from 52 to 64 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1.2 to 1.5 meters.
- The coloring is bright white with black bars on its body, head, and wings.
- This species has yellow eyes and a black beak and talons.
Snowy Owls are one of the most stunning animals on the planet! Their white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Although mostly white, they have horizontal dark lines all over their bodies except the face and breast. Interestingly, individuals seem to get whiter with age.
Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed on the northern tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south for warmer temperatures.
You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel.
Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as northern the United Kingdom. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than usual migrate south.
When defending their territory or searching for a mate, males make a loud “hoo, hoo.” This hoot is so loud it can be heard more than 11 kilometers away on the tundra! Females rarely hoot, but other noises (for both sexes) include cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill snapping.
Do you need additional help identifying owls in the United Kingdom?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)
Which of these owls have you seen in the United Kingdom?
Leave a comment below!