Tawny Owl

Strix aluco (Linnaeus, 1758) TO TAWOW 7610
Family: Strigiformes > Strigidae

Tawny Owl, Liz Cutting

The brown and grey-streaked plumage of the Tawny Owl helps it to blend perfectly into its woodland habitat.

The Tawny Owl is our most widespread owl and can be found in forest, parks and large gardens. It is the source of the familiar ‘too-whit-too-woo’ call which is actually made by two birds – the female is responsible for the ‘too-whit’ part when she answers to the male’s hooting ‘too-woo’.

Ringing Scheme data show that Tawny Owls can live for over 20 years, often frequenting the same territory and even the same nest hole, or nest box, throughout their life. During the autumn Tawny Owls are at their most vocal, as pairs on established territories seek to deter dispersing juveniles from settling.

Exploring the trends for Tawny Owl

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Tawny Owl population is changing.

trends explorer


Tawny Owl identification is usually straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Tawny Owl, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Alarm call



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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



As a nocturnal species, Tawny Owl is covered relatively poorly by the BTO's monitoring schemes. The pattern shown by CBC/BBS is a relatively stable one, however, in keeping with the longevity, sedentary behaviour, and slow breeding rate of this species. There has been a shallow downward trend in the index since the early 1970s. Gibbons et al. (1993) found evidence for a contraction of the species' UK range between the first two atlas periods, though these losses are now largely reversed (Balmer et al. 2013). Nevertheless, the downward drift of the UK population index has continued and, accordingly, the species moved from green to being amber listed in the latest review (Eaton et al. 2015). The BTO carried out new surveys of Tawny Owls in 2018/19, to investigate population trends following on from previous surveys in 1989 and 2005.

Exploring the trends for Tawny Owl

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Tawny Owl population is changing.

trends explorer


Tawny Owls are resident in woodlands throughout Britain but absent from the Channel Islands and Ireland, although a bird presumed to be wild was present in Co. Down in 2013. Within Britain they are absent from the Northern Isles, Outer Hebrides, some of the smaller Inner Hebridean islands, the Isles of Scilly and treeless upland areas elsewhere, particularly in northern Scotland.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats


The change maps show a 25% increase in the number of 10-km squares occupied by Tawny Owls since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, contrasting with a 6% decrease since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas. There are some areas where increases have definitely occurred, including the far north and west of Scotland, where maturing plantations have created suitable new habitat. Elsewhere apparent increases in winter are due primarily to better coverage.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Tawny Owls are present throughout the year but not often recorded on daytime lists.

Weekly occurence of Tawny Owl from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.


Lifecycle and body size information about Tawny Owl, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Tawny Owl

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Tawny Owl population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Tawny Owl

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Tawny Owl population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Comhachag-dhonn
Welsh: Tylluan Frech
Catalan: gamarús euroasiàtic
Czech: puštík obecný
Danish: Natugle
Dutch: Bosuil
Estonian: kodukakk
Finnish: lehtopöllö
French: Chouette hulotte
German: Waldkauz
Hungarian: macskabagoly
Icelandic: Náttugla
Italian: Allocco
Latvian: meža puce
Lithuanian: namine peleda
Norwegian: Kattugle
Polish: puszczyk (zwyczajny)
Portuguese: coruja-do-mato
Slovak: sova obycajná
Slovenian: lesna sova
Spanish: Cárabo común
Swedish: kattuggla
Folkname: Brown Owl, Howlet


Interpretation and scientific publications about Tawny Owl from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The causes of the decline are uncertain.

Further information on causes of change

The substantial improvements in nest success during the c.29-day egg stage could be linked to the declining impact of organochlorine pesticides, which were banned in the early 1960s. The numbers of fledglings per breeding attempt have increased steeply. Special post-breeding surveys of this species were conducted in autumn 2005 (Freeman et al. 2007a), following methodology established by an earlier survey in 1989 (Percival 1990). Integrated population modelling shows that all stages of the life cycle, including elements of both productivity and survival, make appreciable contributions to annual population change (Robinson et al. 2014). In Kielder Forest, vole numbers began fluctuating with a lower amplitude in the mid 1990s: the loss of productivity in years when voles are abundant may ultimately drive the Tawny Owl population there towards extinction (Millon et al. 2014).

Information about conservation actions

The drivers of change for this species are uncertain and hence potential solutions are also unclear.

Habitat fragmentation is one possible factor: Redpath (1995) found that owls occurred in all woods greater than 4 ha and that intermediate sized woods provided the optimum habitat. Provision of a network of suitable woods across the landscape is likely to be an important factor to help restore Tawny Owl populations. Other factors within the landscape may also have an effect; for example a study in Portugal found that Tawny Owls avoid major roads and that roads can therefore reduce populations (Silva et al. 2012), through disturbance and/or direct mortality (van der Horst et al. 2019); hence this may need to be considered when making decisions about infrastructure or other policy decisions which affect provision of habitat across the landscape.


Peer-reviewed papers
Tawny Owl by Sarah Kelman/BTO

Large-scale citizen science survey of a common nocturnal raptor: urbanization and weather conditions influence the occupancy and detectability of the Tawny Owl Strix aluco

Citizen science shapes monitoring approaches for Tawny Owl

2022 | Hanmer, H.J., Boothby, C., Toms, M.P., Noble, D.G. & Balmer, D.E.Bird Study

Data from thousands of volunteers reveal predictors of tawny owl residency and shape optimal survey methods for future research.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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