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Friday, 23 November 2012

Little Owl Update - on 23rd November, 2012

It seems like a long while since I posted anything about the Little Owls that I monitor, so here goes!

Readers of my blog might remember that I was concerned about my LO Site No.02 after a break-in at the nest site. I am pleased to report that recently I saw both owls there so I am less concerned.

This also means that the owl that I saw on 10th November wasn't a refugee from this site, and I've now positively identified the nest location, although I haven't seen the owl again yet. The location is rather remote, and not comfortably accessed when the ground is wet, so it may be a while before I get any images from what I am now calling my new LO Site No.30.

On Sunday I had quite a good owling day, spotting one LO at my Site No.02 (plenty of photos taken, but nothing very different to those previously published). Shortly after this, I was at my LO Site No.17, where I found two LOs in a building that they don't often inhabit. No images were obtained as there were no windows and it was too dark to get a focus! I then went on to my LO Site No.03, and soon spotted a LO.

Little Owl (a) - my Site No.03
It was not possible to approach the tree in which it was sitting, and I had to observe from the road at some distance. It was constantly watching me as I observed it from various positions on the road.

Little Owl (1) - my Site No.03
The roles were suddenly reversed. I was staying still, and the owl was moving about in the tree, watching me from various vantage points. I got confused when it flew left, and immediately appeared on a branch to the right of where it had flown from. It then started to act even more strangely and also did that stretching thing that looks unbelievable on a bird that is usually so dumpy! It was only when this bird flew to a distant tree - and I saw an owl still in the tree I was facing - that I realised that I had been seeing two birds! By examining the pattern of the white spots on the head, I can see that the 'elastic owl' is different to the first one seen.

Little Owl (2) - my Site No.03
On the Saturday, my wife and I had gone for a walk at a local park. It looked very 'owly' and, chatting to some people that we met  on our walk, we were told that Little Owls had been seen recently. I decided that a return visit was called for on Sunday afternoon as the weather was superb. I arrived at the likely location to find a couple with a scope and a camera with an 800mm Canon lens on! I asked if he was looking for the owls and he told me that one had been there earlier, but had been frightened off by a group of people. I had a look around and almost immediately spotted a Little Owl. Unfortunately it was at a great distance, behind a high fence, with no public access. It didn't move, other than to preen, the whole time that I was there, but it did call a few times as the light started to go. This is the best image that I could manage. It'll take some luck to improve on it, however, because of the lack of access - unless the owl comes to me! Anyway, I'm calling this new LO Site No.31.

Little Owl - my new Site No.31
Thus the day ended on a high, with six Little Owls seen over four different sites, and my second new LO site in November, and I'm hopeful for more - if only this weather would sort itself out!


  1. Hi Richard

    Nice to them doing well at this site. What a marvellous little creature - never tire of looking at images of them!

    1. There aren't many birds that seem to show as much character as the Little Owls, Christian. I find them to be totally captivating!

  2. That's great news Richard,just like your images.

  3. Glad to hear the Lo's at site 2 are ok, I know these birds are a favourite to be stolen from the wild by some, that and Peregrines. Hopefully there won't be a re-occurence.

    1. Hi Doug. I hadn't thought in terms of them being stolen. I shall certainly be alert now!

  4. How to you manage to spot them in a new site. Do you look at the habitat first and then look for owly signs. I have tried look up at trees for ages in a park near us where there are some tawny owls, but I never manage to see them. From Findlay

    1. Hi Findlay.

      Tawny Owls, although the most numerous owl in the UK, are not easy to find as they can usually only be found after dark. Then they are far more often heard than seen. Unless they have taken up residence in an owl box, they will usually require mature woodland in order to find a suitably sized and positioned nest hole.

      Barn Owls are more easily seen as they tend to come out at dawn or dusk, but there are far less of them than of the Tawnies. They also tend to be far less vocal (unless disturbed - and you should never intentionally disturb a Barn Owl).

      Both of these species tend to range quite far from their nest sites when they are hunting so, unless you know of a regular hunting ground for these, finding one hunting is usually a matter of luck.

      With Little Owls, you are exactly right, Findlay. I look out for the habitat, and then look for the signs (holes, bird lime, pellets). Little Owls are easier to find because they are often out in the day time. Don't waste time looking for them if it is windy, however, as they will probably be tucked up warmly in a hole somewhere. Still and sunny winter days can be the best for finding them. Little Owls, because of their size, are vulnerable to predators such as Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. It is probably for this reason that they like to nest where they can get a good view from the nest entrance. They are also quite lazy birds and do not like to travel far from their nest. An ideal nest site is, therefore, a hole in an isolated tree (or a derelict farm building with the roof still on) in the middle of a field (they are not a woodland bird). Their main food sources are worms, beetles, and small mammals (voles), but they will also take small birds. Now that the leaves are off the trees, it is a good time to look for owls. You will be looking out for a dumpy silhouette with a very round head. If you're lucky (and the bird is feeling confident) it will be sitting out on exposed limb of a tree, but it is more likely that it will be at the inner end of a limb, where it meets the trunk, with its back to the trunk. It will do this to protect its back from unseen predator approach. If you are lucky enough to find a Little Owl you can bet your life that it will see you before you see it. They are quite canny, and only usually get concerned if they think that you are taking too much interest in them. If you want to get a little closer, sometimes it works to very gently zig-zag towards them, pretending that you haven't seen them (but don't try to get too close) - and then have a look. However, there is another characteristic of Little Owls and that is, if they know that you have seen them, they will often wait until you look away before they fly away (I said that they were canny!). So you might get closer, look up, and find that the bird has gone!

      For close obeservation, you really need a hide. If you are lucky enough to find an owl nest near a road where you can park a car, you'll have to talk nicely to your dad, as a car makes a good hide! Alternatively (very few of my owl sites are near a road) you could add a chair-hide to your Christmas or birthday wish list. These are a marvellous bit of kit, and I use one quite a lot - look up "Stealth Gear chair hide" on Google. They do one-man and two-man versions (both for under £100), and the two-man might be good for you and your dad to watch brids together. They even come with cup-holders in the arms of the chair - great for when you want a picnic.

      Best of luck!


      Oh - I didn't mention Short-eared Owls and Long-eared owls. SEOs are mainly found in the north of UK, but come further south in winter when their numbers are swelled by birds arriving from northern Europe. They will hunt during the day, and moorland is a favourite area for them. They are had to find when roosting as they are often in a tunnel of long grass. LEOs are very hard to find as they tend to be nocturnal and also like to roost in dense bushy trees/shrubs where they are extremely well camouflaged!

    2. Wow, thank you for all this advice and for the toruble you have gone to. I am going to go through it all with Mum and Dad. And I am going to get back to my local park as soon as i can. From Findlay

    3. It's my pleasure Findlay. If you see any birdwatchers when you're at your local park, don't forget to say hello, and it wouldn't harm to mention to them that you are looking for owls - they just might be able to point you in the right direction!

  5. How funny, those Little Owls are playing games with you;) I like the 'elastic' owl:))))

    1. There's rarely a dull moment when a Little Owl is around, Linda!


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