Owls make local garden birdwatching a ‘hoot’!

01 Sep 2011 | No. 2011-34

North Yorkshire gardens hold record numbers of Tawny Owls, latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch reveal. This nocturnal bird, which has mottled brown plumage and all-black eyes, is particularly noticeable at this time of year as young birds establish territories.

September is a great time to hear Tawny
Owls in gardens

September is a great time to hear Tawny Owls in gardens as young birds disperse from their natal areas to claim a territory. Both male and female Tawny Owls hoot, making different sounding calls and the pair may even duet in defence of their newly established territory. With around 40% of North Yorkshire covered by National Parks, the county boasts a greater abundance of quality refuges for birds than many others. This abundance of green space, including woodland, favours Tawny Owls and many individuals appear to be spilling over into gardens.

Tawny Owls visit a greater percentage of gardens in North Yorkshire than in any other British or Irish county. During an average week in 2010, 8% of local gardens hosted this species, more than double the average of elsewhere. These striking findings have emerged thanks to the simple observations of hundreds of local householders who participate weekly in the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey.

It is not just Tawny Owls that are doing well locally. The elegant Tree Sparrow, whose smart chestnut-brown cap distinguishes it from the male House Sparrow, which has a grey cap, visited over a third of local gardens during an average week in 2010 – a much higher percentage than in any other county. Tree Sparrows are a red-listed species of high conservation concern in the UK and so their use of North Yorkshire gardens is of added importance. Local gardens also top the charts for Goldfinches. During an average week in 2010, this stunning visitor visited over two-thirds of North Yorkshire gardens, delighting local householders with its affable chatter and colourful plumage.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer, commented: “Householders in North Yorkshire can be amazed at the richness of their garden bird community. Take the Tawny Owl, for instance. People don’t tend to think of this species as a garden bird but at this time of year many local people host one on their patch. Tawny Owls have adapted well to living in well-wooded suburbs of many towns and cities, taking fewer small mammals but more small birds and even earthworms, lifted from lawns on damp nights.”

He added, “Local Citizen Scientists have revealed these stunning new results. BTO Garden BirdWatch is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world with almost 250 participants in North Yorkshire alone. As autumn draws in, the BTO is encouraging more householders to try the survey by requesting a free ‘taster’ pack. Whether people watch garden birds for 10 minutes or 10 hours during most weeks, they can make a valuable contribution.”

Give BTO Garden BirdWatch a go by requesting a free three-week ‘taster’ pack: email gbw [at] bto.org or telephone 01842 750050.

Notes for Editors

  1. Tawny Owl: percentage of gardens visited during an average week in 2010 - please see table below 
    Gardens occupied (%)
    West Midlands
  1. Analyses: Data presented are from BTO Garden BirdWatch in 2010. British and Irish counties were included if 40 or more householders submitted records during every week of the year.
  2. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.Visit www.bto.org
  3. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,000 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw

Contact information

Tim Harrison
(Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
Email: gbw [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2011-34

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview. Office: 01842 750050

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