Saturday, 10 June 2017

Post 466 - Looking Out for Lovely Little Owls

Stop! Turn round, I think I've just seen an owl!
Hey everyone today is post 466 and I've got a treat today. One of the things I often say in our house is I've never seen enough owls. The whole family loves them, can't get enough of them and everywhere we go we live in hope of spotting one. Well we'd had a lovely walk at the forest one evening after work and school and on our way home my mum yelled “Stop! It's an owl!” and Dad turned the car round to where she was pointing and sure enough on a telephone pole perched on one of the metal struts was the most gorgeous Little Owl I've ever seen! Well to be fair I think it`s only the second Little Owl I've ever seen in the wild! So it was a pretty special occasion. We carefully pulled up as near to it as we could on the little lane we were on and I was able to take a whole load of photos of him (or her) – it was looking right at me but didn't seem to mind the attention!

Anyway here are some facts about Owls and in particular Little Owls:

  • There are about 5,700 breeding pairs of Little Owls in the UK but are said to be in decline. They are seen mostly in England and Wales and parts of Scotland too.
Hurray - it was an owl! A Little Owl eyeing up
what was in the hedges.
  • They can usually be seen out and about during the daytime.  They can be spotted (if you're lucky!) on poles, fence posts, rocks or branches – anywhere where they have a good view of their hunting ground.
  • They have an undulating flight and so can sometimes be mistaken for a Mistlethrush or Green Woodpecker as they are a similar size and colour and found in the same sorts of environment (woods and farmland etc).
  • If you've ever heard a Little Owl at night you`ll know what an amazingly beautiful, haunting sound it is and their voice can carry for several miles on a still quiet night – so they might not actually be as close as you hoped they were!
  • It most commonly hunts at dusk and dawn but is also diurnal, which means it hunts in the daytime too. It`s eyes are an orangey-yellow. It is useful to know about the different coloured eyes and when they tend to hunt, yellow being during the day, orange being dusk and dawn and those with very dark eyes being night-time hunters.
  • Owls are amazing predators, which means they hunt and kill living creatures.  Little Owls mainly eat moths, beetles, earwigs and worms but also when they can small mammals and birds.  They have hooked beaks and sharp claws which make catching, hanging on to and killing their prey easy.  They also have the ability to fly completely silently.
What's that looking at me?
  • Their heart shaped faces not only look beautiful and very appealing – they also have a purpose! They act as a speaker, sounds are directed across their flat faces by short stiff feathers towards their ears, which interestingly are slightly differently positioned so one is higher than the other, which again helps to direct sounds from all around them.  You might be able to see an owl bobbing its head up and down and turning it, and this is why, it`s taking it all in.  Their amazing hearing means they can locate a meal just using this sense alone.  Even in the dark it can then swoop in silently and pick up their prey.
  • Owls don`t actually have a sense of smell, though their hearing and eyesight more than makes up for this!
  • Their amazing ability to hunt is also due to their plumage.  They have incredibly soft feathers that have comb-like fringes on them which deadens the noise the flapping makes.  This does two things, it prevents the prey from being able to hear it approaching and so be able to take cover, but it also enables the owl itself to be able to hear – if its feathers were flapping around its ears it wouldn`t be able to hear tiny movements on ground level!
A slightly gruesome jigsaw!
Field Vole remains from an Owl pellet.
  • Their feathers are also quite well camouflaged so that they blend into their surroundings.
  • Owls tend to swallow their prey whole and then some hours later will regurgitate a pellet which contains all the things it couldn't digest or has no nutritional benefit to it, such as fur, bones or feathers.  We have often found owl pellets and have dissected them, it`s fascinating to try to put back together a tiny skeleton, we have managed it once or twice and have a picture of a little vole…….
  • Pellets are usually found close to where their roost is so finding one gives a clue as to where an owl might be living.
  • Male owls have a territory and tend to live `solitary` lives.  They only let a female into their territory for mating purposes which they do in the spring.
  • Owls don`t build their own nests like many other species of birds do.  They use holes in trees, old nests, holes in barns etc or specially constructed owl houses built by humans who want to attract them!
A Tawny fledgling at Staveley.
  • The female owl tends to lay her clutch of eggs over 2-4 day intervals.  She will incubate the eggs for around 29-35 days. Because there is a delay in between the laying of each egg and so also in the hatching of each chick, there is a huge difference in size between the chicks, with the first being massively more developed and bigger than the last one to hatch. Sometimes when food sources are low, if the weather has been particular wet for some nights running as it has been here recently, the majority of the food will go to the biggest chick, who has the best chance of survival, and unfortunately the smaller ones will be left to starve, it really is survival of the fittest in these situations. But if all is well, and food is a plenty, the chicks will be fed by mum and dad who will tear up small bits of a small mammal and feed the chicks.
  • They will fledge around 7-12 weeks and by this time they will be about the same size as their parent.  Here is a fantastic photo of some fledgling Tawny Owls we saw at Staveley Nature Reserve recently!  Huge balls of fluff! 
Well, as it happens I might have a chance to go to a spot later today where I've seen Barn Owls before so I'll be on the look out again.

Hope you enjoyed.