As the nights are drawing in and Halloween is approaching it feels fitting to write about owls. We are fortunate in Binfield to have three species of owls making the parish their home: tawny owls; little owls; and barn owls (pictured above).
Tawny owls are the commonest and are the ones that you are most likely to hear, mainly in autumn and winter. The males are more vocal and their calls are variations on “tu-hu-hu-hu”. The female responds with a shorter “twik”. Hence, the “twit twoo” much loved by children’s authors and film makers is actually a combination of the call of female and male birds.
Tawny owl numbers are declining, possibly due to a loss of suitable nest sites. Occasionally, tawny owls can be found in Binfield’s woods in daylight as their sleep is disturbed by small birds mobbing them.
Little owls are the smallest of our native owls and are the ones most likely to be seen in daylight sitting on tree stumps or fence posts. They were introduced to Britain in the late 1800s, as it was thought that they would enhance parkland estates. Their numbers have declined since the 1980s, reflecting the decline in their preferred prey, small mammals and large insects. I have yet to see one in Binfield but I am reliably informed that they do nest here, and I am fairly confident that I have heard them. Their calls are a surprisingly loud “keeroo” noise sometimes accompanied by a “kip-kip-kip”.
Barn owls are the species that tends to get the best press, and often feature in falconry displays like the bird in the picture above. Over the last 50 years their population has declined due to a loss of traditional nesting sites and declining numbers of small mammals. A campaign was launched to build nest boxes. This seems to have been successful as the UK barn owl population is now on the increase. Barn owl boxes can be found at Garth Meadow and Bracknell sewage works. This year seems to have been a good one for barn owls as it has been a good vole year and fairly dry. As I write this, some of the boxes around Binfield are being used for second broods. Barn owls are less vocal than the other two species but sometimes make a shrieking noise which can be disconcerting at night.
For more information on all of these owls have a look at https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/project-owl/learn-about-owls