Owl identification

The appearance, sounds, flight and habitat of the 5 most common species or types of owl in the UK:
Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Little Owl, Long-eared Owl and Short-eared Owl

Barn Owl identification

  • Owl Identification Barn OwlAbout 330mm tall with a wing span of 900mm.
  • Largely white underparts.
  • Golden buff upperparts with grey markings.
  • White, heart-shaped face with dark eyes.
  • Overall impression in flight of a large white bird.
  • Slow, buoyant flight in a back and forth motion.
  • Lives mainly in open farmland habitat (not woodland).
  • Seen but not heard, they call rarely.
  • Barn Owls don’t hoot! They shriek, hiss and snore. Click the arrow to hear Barn Owl sounds: 
  • Often seen at night whilst driving but dawn and dusk sightings are most common.
  • Use our sexing Barn Owls photoguide to help identify male and female.
  • Barn Owl pellets are different from other owl pellets.

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Tawny Owl identification

  • Owl Identification Tawny OwlAbout 430mm tall with a wing span of 950mm.
  • Brown or grey underparts and upperparts.
  • More rounded brown or grey face with dark eyes.
  • Overall impression in flight of a large brown bird (but can look pale in car headlights).
  • More direct flight, often from tree to tree.
  • Primarily live in woodland habitat but anywhere with mature trees (including cities).
  • Familiar and common ‘twit twoo’ call (actually Tawny Owl females ‘kewick’ and males ‘hoohoo’). Click the arrow to hear Tawny Owl sounds: 

  • Largely nocturnal and rarely seen at other times unless at roost.
  • Tawny Owl pellets are different from other owl pellets.

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Little Owl identification

  • Owl Identification Little OwlAbout 220mm tall with a wing span of 560mm.
  • Mottled brown and white underparts and upperparts.
  • Narrow brownish face with pale yellow eyes and dark irises.
  • Overall impression in flight of a smallish brown bird.
  • Characteristic, direct, undulating flight.
  • Lives in mixed farmland habitat, particularly where there are fruit trees/orchards.
  • Repetitive call is a plaintive
    ‘kiew kiew’ and a ‘wherrow wherrow’ (reminiscent of a small dog barking).
  • Largely diurnal, but call may be heard at any time of the day or night.
  • Little Owl pellets are different from other owl pellets (but similar to Kestrel pellets).

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Long-eared Owl identification

  • Owl Identification Long Eared OwlAbout 350mm tall with a wing span of 950mm.
  • Mottled pale and dark brown underparts and upperparts.
  • Rounded brown face, orange eyes with dark iris and long ear-tufts (when raised).
  • Overall impression in flight of a large brown bird (though surprisingly small when perched).
  • Buoyant flight in a back and forth motion but rarely seen.
  • Lives in woodland and farmland habitat.
  • Has a rarely-heard repeated ‘hoo, hoo, hoo’ call uttered only in the breeding season.
  • Extremely nocturnal but communal roosts can occasionally be found in thick cover in the winter.

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Short-eared Owl identification

  • Owl Identification Short Eared Owl Les FosterAbout 350mm tall with a wing span of 1000mm.
  • Mottled pale brown underparts with upper breast streaked dark brown.
  • Mottled pale and dark brown upperparts.
  • Rounded brown face, yellow eyes and short, often indiscernible ear tufts.
  • Overall impression in flight of a large brown bird (but underparts can look almost white).
  • Buoyant flight in a back and forth motion.
  • Lives in farmland, moorland and wetland habitats, including marshes and reedbeds.
  • A male’s rarely heard song is a low ‘boo-boo-boo-boo-boo’, whilst females give a ‘ree-yow’ call.
  • Both nocturnal and diurnal, they can be seen hunting in daylight in suitable habitat.

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