Owlet identification and ageing

Owlet Id Ageing Tawny Barn Owlets

Nestlings: a Tawny Owl on the left and Barn Owl on the right

Why is it important to identify and age an owlet accurately?

When you find a very young owl or ‘owlet’, it’s important to be able to identify and age it accurately, because what species it is and how old it is will dictate the correct course of action. For example, healthy Tawny Owl owlets can be left alone whilst healthy Barn Owl owlets must be replaced in the nest. Certain individuals may also need rehabilitation depending on the circumstances.
Find out whether to pick up a fallen owlet.

How do you identify an owlet?

Barn Owl Tawny Owl Little Owl
white down
(very soft and fluffy).
grey/dirty-looking down (white when very small – under 10cm) brown / dirty-looking down 
dark eyes, flesh-coloured eye-lids dark eyes, livid pink eye-lids pale eyes, flesh-coloured eye-lids
unfeathered toes well-feathered toes slightly feathered toes
often found in or near buildings
(but will use hollow trees or nestboxes on trees or poles)
often found in woodland or close to trees often found in or near buildings, or under mature trees
Owlet Id Ageing Barn Owl Owlet Owlet Id Ageing Tawny Owl Owlet Owlet Id Ageing Little Owl Owlet

How do you age an owlet?

People who are licensed to handle wild owls can tell how old they are by taking measurements. Here’s an easy guide for everyone else:

Nestlings Fledglings Juveniles
don’t look old enough to leave the nest do look just about old enough to leave the nest identical to adults in appearance
no, few or not fully-grown ‘proper’ feathers mostly-feathered appearance fully-feathered
downy or ‘fluffy’ appearance still some wispy down on feathers, typically on the top of the head/between the legs no down
Owlet Id Ageing Ageing Guide

With certain measurements, an owlet’s age can be accurately determined (WL stands for Wing Length)

What should I do if it’s in trouble?

If the owlet that you have found shows signs of injury or starvation, or you are advising someone else who has found an owl, please refer to the following pages:

Take a look at our galleries of Barn Owl nestlings and fledglings and our photoguide to owlet growth and development.

Chapter 9 of the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook provides a lot more information on owl rehabilitation.