The 12 days of (a wildlife) Christmas – an owl in an oak tree

Tawny owl by Beverley Carpenter

Christmas is in the air and here in Ipswich we’re starting to feel rather festive! Join us in the run up to Christmas by celebrating some of the towns wild places and awesome species as we adapt the famous words of the 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally for the first day of Christmas we’d be receiving a partridge in a pear tree from our one true love, but we’ve decided to tell you about an owl in an oak tree instead.

In April this year whilst surveying Christchurch Park in the small hours of the morning, we were fortunate enough to hear the peeping of the tawny owl chick. With our ears trained on the squeaky and unsure sound of the young chick’s call we found not just one but two fluffy outlines perched in a tree near the charming Victorian Peters Ice Cream hut, not too far from the Reg Driver Centre. Whilst the tawny owl is often associated with woodlands, they can often be found in gardens and green spaces such as parks becoming a familiar owl species for many. 

Tawny Owl Feather - Christchurch Park

Christchurch Park is of course well known in Ipswich for its association with tawny owls due to its rather famous resident Mabel, who was a much loved figure and was frequently and rather unusually spotted asleep in her tree during the day. We were delighted to find two new additions to the park and extension to Mabel’s family.

For tawny owls, the first clutches are laid in February with the majority of eggs laid in March and April. After hatching, chicks take 30 – 39 days to fledge where they can be seen flying short distances from the nest site to begin with, increasing their range over the coming weeks and we just so happened to be lucky enough to see them during this fledgling stage too. 

Tawny Owl - Tom Hibbert

In October we were pleased to hear the full bodied kewick twoo of several adult tawny owls this autumn signaling the chicks had made it to adulthood. Gone was the unsure juvenile squeak of before. It is often thought that the kewick twoo is a single individual, however this is in fact a tawny owl duet that strengthens bonds and defends territories. The female part of the call is the sharp kewick followed by the male’s twoo. However, this might not have been quite the family recital that it seemed. In autumn and winter there is an increased chance to hear the call of tawny owls as this is when they are defending their territories, mostly from juveniles. Despite rearing their young across the spring and sometimes giving them an additional helping hand in the summer, parents will sometimes quite aggressively kick their young of their breeding grounds that was once the family home. This is in order to have a monopoly on the small mammal population in order to see themselves through the winter and following year when they start to breed once more.

With British Ornithological Society reporting that several factors that affect tawny owls such as time of day, moon phase and weather conditions, they are asking for our help to record any hooting recitals that we may be lucky enough to hear or even if you haven’t heard any at all! The Tawny Owl Calling Survey 2018 / 2019 runs until 31st March 2019 and they are asking us to spend 20 minutes one night a week, preferably across 6 weeks to help gather information as to which sexes are present. The last Tawny Owl Calling Survey was in 2005/2006 and helped to gather important information on this amber listed species and BTO hopes that with our help, the 2018 / 2019 survey will do the same.

So whether you can commit six weeks or just a couple and whether you stand outside for the 20 minutes or just train your ear out to listen out of your window its not only great fun to listen out for the hoot of a tawny owl, but you will be contributing to an important nation wide scheme. All the details and how to take part can be found online here….

Remember if you’re in the Christchurch park area, keep your eyes peeled and ears pinned back for tawny owls and they may just treat you a hoottastic recital. We will leave the signing to the owls we think!