Tawny owl

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The tawny owl (Strix aluco) belongs to the family of true owls, Strigidae.

The tawny owl species are distributed in northwest India, north Pakistan, central Asia, Middle East, northwest Africa and Europe. These owl species do not have ear tufts and are highly nocturnal. These owls are polytypic species.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Tawny Owl Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Appearance, physical description and identification

The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is a medium-sized, robust, typical owl, measuring 35 to 40 cm in length. The female is slightly larger than the male and weighs 550 grams. The male weighs 440 grams. The wingspan is 95 to 105 cm.

These tawny owl species have relatively large heads and a plain grayer facial disc demarcated by an irregular dark brown line. They lack ear-tufts. The plumage color is variable among the subspecies and the same subspecies may have two or more morphs.

The nominate subspecies of tawny owl has brown, gray and intermediate color morphs. The upperparts are brown, rufous brown or grayish brown with dark irregular streaks. The underparts are pale or whitish and streaked with brown. There is a dark line from crown to the upper base of the bill.

In the tawny owl, the large size of the eyes, tubular shape, large number of retinal rod cells and absence of cone cells are adaptations for night vision. The irises are dark brown. The bill is pale greenish gray. The legs, feet and toes are covered with feathers.

The left ear opening is at a higher level on the head than the larger right ear opening, which is tilted downwards. This asymmetrical placement of ear openings improves directional hearing. The ear openings are hidden by the facial disc feathers, which are transparent to sound.

The hunting and contact call is a loud metallic "kew.wick" or a quavering "tu..whoo..ooo..ooo" sound. The male advertising call is a very distinctive hooting "hoo..ho.ho.hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo" sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Tawny owl - Strix aluco
1.Birds of India - Image of Tawny owl - Strix aluco by Solymári

Birds of India - Photo of Tawny owl - Strix aluco
2.Indian birds - Picture of Tawny owl - Strix aluco by Martin Mecnarowski (http://www.photomecan.eu)

Indian birds - Image of Tawny owl - Strix aluco
3.Birds of India - Photo of Tawny owl - Strix aluco by Adam Kumiszcza

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The tawny owl species are distributed in northwest India, north Pakistan, central Asia, Middle East, northwest Africa and Europe.

In India, these tawny owl species are distributed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The tawny owl nominate subspecies S. a. aluco is distributed north and east Europe, west Russia up to Ural Mountains, and southwards towards Alps, Balkans and Black Sea regions.

The tawny owl subspecies S. a. biddulphi is distributed in northeast Afghanistan, north Pakistan, northwest India (Jammu and Kashmir), Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The tawny owl subspecies S. a. harmsi is distributed in south Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and northeast China (Xinjiang). The subspecies S. a. sanctinicolai is distributed in northeast Iraq and western Iran.

The tawny owl subspecies S. a. willkonskii is distributed in northeast Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia (bordering Caspian and Black Seas), northwest Iran and southwest Turkmenistan.

The tawny owl subspecies S. a. sylvatica is distributed in Britain, west France, Portugal, Gibraltar, Spain, south Italy, Greece, Mediterranean Turkey, west Syria, Lebanon, northeast Jordan and north Israel.

The tawny owl subspecies S. a. siberiae is distributed in Russia (east of Urals to west Siberia). The subspecies S. a. mauritanica is distributed in northwest Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).

Ecosystem and habitat

These tawny owl species have medium forest dependence. These species normally occur in altitudes from 0 to 2350 meters.

These owl species are highly territorial, holding and guarding a territory of about 1000 sq. meters. During the day these owls take shelter in tree holes, among rocks or old buildings, usually hiding behind thick foliage. They prefer locations closer to water.

The artificial ecosystems of these tawny owl species include cultivated lands, farmland with trees, orchards, conifer plantations, pasturelands, rural gardens, urban parks, cemeteries with trees and heavily degraded forest land.

The natural ecosystems of these tawny owl species include boreal forests, temperate forests, pine forests, deciduous and mixed forests, boreal shrublands, Mediterranean-type shrublands and temperate shrublands.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of the tawny owl consists mainly of small mammals. Small rodents, shrews, voles, young rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, earthworms, snails, insects and fish are their primary food. They may prey upon smaller species of owls.

The tawny owls usually hunt in the night. They start to hunt at dusk and about dawn return to their day time roost. They glide silently down to the prey from a perch. There are two hunting trips and in between there is a resting period.

Occasionally, the tawny owls hunt in daylight to feed young ones. The prey is normally swallowed whole. The indigestible remains such as bones, fur and feathers are regurgitated as pellets.

Their excellent directional hearing is the key to their hunting success. They can follow the movement of their prey or a potential predator by turning their head with eyes shut.

The tawny owl species can turn their head through nearly a full circle to observe their prey without moving the body. They sometimes beat the bushes or woody creepers with their wings to flush out roosting birds.

Reproduction and breeding habits

These tawny owl species reach maturity at the end of first year. They are monogamous and pair for life. The owl pair establish their territory and defend it year round. They may roost together or separately in their territory.

The breeding season of these owl species is from February to july in most of their range. Their nesting sites include abandoned magpie nests, squirrel dreys, holes in trees, crevices in buildings and rock clusters. No nesting material is used.

The typical tawny owl clutch contains 2-4 broadly elliptical, glossy white eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about 30 days. The chicks are altricial with short white down. The nestlings are fed by the mother with the food brought by the father.

The nestlings fledge in about 35-40 days. They leave the nest up to ten days before fledging and hide in nearby leafy branches. The fledglings stay with their parents for another three months.

Migration and movement patterns

The tawny owl species are non-migratory resident birds. Post breeding, the juveniles may disperse and establish in new locations within the range. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding within their range.

Tawny owl - Overview

  • Scientific name: Strix aluco
  • Species author: Linnaeus, 1758
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Strix Aluco Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Strigidae › Strigiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Tawny owl, Chinese: 灰林鸮, French: Chouette hulotte, German: Waldkauz, Spanish: Cárabo común, Russian: Неясыть обыкновенная серая, Japanese: モリフクロウ, Arabic: البومة السمراء
  • Other names: Eurasian tawny owl, Tawny wood owl
  • Distribution: northwest India, north Pakistan, central Asia, Middle East, northwest Africa, Europe
  • Diet and feeding habits: small mammals, birds, small reptiles, large insects
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the tawny owl (Strix aluco) is estimated to number 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 mature individual birds. The overall population trend of these species is reported to be stable.

Throughout its range this species is reported to be common and is locally very common. The generation length is 8 years. Its distribution size is about 23,300,000 sq.km.

Habitat degradation, hunting and trapping for pet-trade, pesticide use and electrocution are the main threats that may endanger the survival of these owl species.

IUCN and CITES status

The tawny owl (Strix aluco) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the owl species and has listed it as of "Least Concern". The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Evaluated’ for tawny owl (Strix aluco) and listed in Appendix II.
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Strix aluco
Species:S. aluco
Binomial name:Strix aluco
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is closely related to the Omani owl (Strix butleri), Ural owl (Strix uralensis) and Himalayan owl (Strix nivicolum).

The eight recognized subspecies of tawny owl are: S. a. aluco Linnaeus, 1758, S. a. siberiae Dementiev, 1933, S. a. biddulphi (Scully, 1881), S. a. harmsi (Zarudny, 1911), S. a. sylvatica Shaw, 1809, S. a. sanctinicolai (Zarudny, 1905), S. a. mauritanica (Witherby, 1905) and S. a. willkonskii (Menzbier, 1896).
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1.Tawny owl photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Macskabaglyok_a_Budakeszi_Vadasparkban.JPG (cropped)
Photo author: Solymári | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
2.Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strix_aluco_1_(Martin_Mecnarowski).jpg (cropped)
Photo author: Martin Mecnarowski (http://www.photomecan.eu | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
3.Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strix_aluco.jpg (cropped)
Photo author: Adam Kumiszcza | License: CC BY 3.0
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