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Owls in London

March 6, 2012

This article was originally published in the winter 2011 edition of Wild London magazine.

Most native species of owl in the U.K. require substantial areas of suitable habitat, and traditionally shun urban areas. Eight species of owl have been recorded in an apparently wild state in the Greater London area. Of these, just one – the Tawny Owl – is a widespread breeding resident. Little Owls are localised breeding residents, mostly in the rural fringes, although a few pairs are present further into the city.

adult Tawny Owl, Abney Park Cemetery, Hackney (Mark Pearson)

Barn Owls are a scarce but regular wanderer, usually into the outskirts, and are just about hanging on as a rare breeder there. Long-eared and Short-eared Owls are uncommon winter visitors and passage migrants, again usually where suitable exists in the city’s outskirts or at expansive reserves; the latter species is also a rare breeder.

Tawny Owls are by far the most tolerant owl species, and can be found in surprisingly busy, disturbed urban areas, providing suitable feeding and breeding habitat exists. Parkland, cemeteries, well-grown railway sidings and woodland are all utilised, so long as mature trees (with suitable nest holes) and a plentiful supply of prey (mainly small rodents, but also insects and small birds) are available.

Tawny Owl fledglings, Abney (Mark Pearson)

Little Owls (introduced from mainland Europe in the 19th century) are more commonly found in open areas, especially farmland, where their diet of insects, birds, amphibians and snakes are abundant; they are partly diurnal and often perch in the open, hence being less difficult to find than other species.

Short-eared, Long-eared and Barn Owls also prefer mixed farmland, and have all decreased in the London area in recent years. The best places to find them are on the city’s fringes, where pockets of suitable habitat still exists.

Barn Owls only occur on the capital’s fringes, and only a few pairs breed within Greater London (Mark Pearson)

Mark James Pearson

All words and pictures – copyright Mark James Pearson 2012



























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