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Wise Up On Owls

Posted on 1st October, 2018

As the nights draw in and there is a nip in the evening air, now is the time we start to notice tawny owls around the The Farleighs. This year’s youngsters are dispersing from their natal territory to find mates of their own, while their parents begin the process of re-establishing pairings for the coming breeding season – tawny owls start early, with eggs from February, even January, onwards. We are fortunate that the villages still retain mature trees to provide the cavities for their nests, although they will use a nestbox if no cavity is available. They have a catholic diet: small birds, rodents, frogs, even large insects and worms – so don’t be surprised if you see one on your lawn on a damp night. Although famed for being able to see in the dark (their eyesight is not that much better than ours and they certainly can’t see in total darkness) they need to get to know the layout of their territory to find their way around, hence they tend to ‘stay put’. Owls hunt mainly by sound, so rain and wind can make it difficult for them. Although we can’t see their ears, they are situated asymmetrically – horizontally and vertically - on the bird’s head, enabling it to pinpoint tiny sounds with amazing accuracy. 

The well known ‘tuwit – tuwoo’ call is two owls duetting. The female calls ‘keewik’ and the male responds with the lower hoot. From my garden I can often hear two competing males hooting at each other; one is resident in the gardens along the lane, with another in a belt of trees across the adjoining fields. A walk outside soon after dusk could reveal quite a few more territories in and around the villages.


Like most of our birds, owl populations are in decline, so why not take part in a national scheme aimed at helping them. The British Trust for Ornithology is running a simple survey to establish where the owls are calling. Just stand in your garden and listen! Find out more at   by clicking here . The site has recordings of the calls of all the owls likely to be heard locally – tawny, barn, little and long-eared. Have a listen – and next time your insomnia has you lying awake, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you have an unexpected garden visitor.


Daytime predators are also more likely to be seen at this time of year too. Obviously, there are more of them at the moment – they have just produced their new families too, and adults are busily hunting the young of other species to feed them. Female sparrowhawks spend the first part of their breeding season sitting tight on their eggs and small chicks, while the smaller male does the hunting for both of them. But now the females are hunting again too. I’ve seen one swoop into the hedge around my garden to snatch a sparrow, although it all happened so quickly I’m not sure if she was successful, but remains of a woodpigeon lying in an explosion of plucked feathers in the corner of my garden on a another day suggests that was a successful foray.


 It happens in public too, as Terry Standage was lucky to witness recently in Charlton Lane. On this occasion the female hawk had brought down a pigeon in the parking spaces outside the houses. Unfortunately her efforts were thwarted by the arrival of car being parked! The hawk flew off, leaving a surprised, and very fortunate, potential meal to flutter off to the nearby hedgerow.







Ospreys have also been seen in Kent – there have been individuals in Marden and Bough Beech reservoir recently. They are on their way south on migration to central Africa, so keep your eyes open.






















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