The tawny owl (4)

Scotland's Birds of Prey, Part 4: the tawny owl

Although Scotland is perhaps most famous - especially amongst falconers - for its peregrine falcon, it may surprise you to know that Scotland is home to more than 20 varieties of bird of prey. In this series, we're introducing you to some of the birds of prey that you can see across Scotland.

We started this series off with a post about the buzzard; in part 3, we looked at the sparrowhawk and part 2 was all about the the kestrel but in this post, we're switching to an owl: the tawny owl.

Tawny owl and its prey

The tawny owl

The tawny owl is Scotland's most prolific owl. A popular creature in folklore and fairytale but nocturnal and not easy to see, the tawny owl seems both familiar to all of us and yet is quite unknown to most of us. Much more familiar is its sound: the t'wit-t'woo call of the tawny is the one that pretty much everyone thinks of as 'the sound an owl makes'.

Tawny owls have red-brown and cream feathers and large black eyes in a round face that's ringed with darker feathers. The size of a wood pigeon, they are stocky, solitary and shy birds. 

Hunting technique

Tawnies have been known to inflict injury on cats, dogs and even humans with their sharp talons but their natural prey is rodents and small mammals. Fully nocturnal, the tawny's large, dark eyes and precise hearing allow it to hunt at night. It is not at all neighbourly to other owl species, fiercely driving out any little owls or barn owls that try to nest near by.  

Tawny owl numbers

There are around 50,000 breeding pairs of tawnies throughout Great Britain, although there are no Tawny owls in Ireland. Typically these owls pair up within their first year and remain monogamous for life, zealously defending their territory and tree-trunk nest.

When and where and how to see tawny owls in Scotland:

  • All year round but youngsters move into new territories in Autumn and may be more vocal then.
  • In woodland, usually hunkered down in tree-trunk hollows, throughout Scotland.
  • You're most likely to hear them at night, if they are in the area, so then its a question of looking for pellets on the ground. But tread carefully - they can be fierce defenders of their nests!

Press play to hear more about the tawny owl from David Attenborough on R4's Tweet of the Day:

Have you seen (or heard) tawny owls anywhere in Scotland? If so, where were you? Do you have a favourite bird of prey? Or a story to tell about a bird of prey? Please leave a comment below - we'd love to hear from you about this. 

Want to know more?

We've now covered four of the birds of prey that can be found in Scotland.

In future posts, we'll look at more (including falcons, eagles, kites and hawks), so please subscribe to The Scottish Countryman's blog to follow this series.



  4. Martin, Brian P.: Birds of prey of the British Isles (1992) David & Charles
  5. Thompson, D., Rley, H., and Etheridge, B., Scotland's Birds of Prey (2010) Lomond Books


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  2. Page: Attribution: By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons 
  3. Page: Attribution: By No machine-readable author provided. Akumiszcza assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via

Links to other posts in this series

  1. Buzzard
  2. Kestrel
  3. Sparrowhawk
  4. Tawny Owl
  5. Red-tailed kite
  6. Merlin
  7. White-tailed eagle

Want to know what others thought about their bird of prey experience? Read the reviews.

If you'd like to experience birds of prey up close, why not book a Bird of Prey Experience with us?