Owls have always featured prominently in the mythology and folklore of a variety of cultures. These mysterious nocturnal creatures are thought to be symbols of wisdom, omens of death, and bringers of prophecy. In fact, owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal, with fossils dating back 60 million years.
Owls have been a source of inspiration to writers, artists, historians and naturalists alike. In a much-anticipated volume on one of Britain's most fascinating group of birds, Mike Toms draws on a wealth of experience and research, providing a comprehensive natural history of British owls.
The first part of Owls covers various aspects of owl taxonomy, origins, anatomy, behaviour and ecology and looks across the British owl species, drawing comparisons and highlighting differences. The second part takes each species in turn to provide a more detailed perspective, fleshing out relevant conservation issues, behaviour and status.
Toms explores Britain's beloved Barn Owl, Tawny Owl and Snowy Owl amongst several others. He uses the vast database and latest research from his work with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to focus particularly on the specifics of owls' breeding ecology, their dispersal patterns, diet, vocalisations, description, population changes and mortality. He addresses conservation issues, changes in legislation and potential changes in the status of one of Britain's most iconic birds, providing a fascinating overview of the biology and history of British owls.
"Seventy years in the making, this celebration of our native owls is a fine addition to a glory of British publishing – the New Naturalist series"
– The Sunday Times
"It's an excellent read and should be on every owl enthusiast's bookshelf, not to mention those of collectors of this great series"
"Fabulous [...] [Owls brings] the natural world to a wide audience in simple unfussy but engaging prose [...] The result is the best and most detailed published account of the British owl species ever produced [...] One of the joys of the book is that Toms leaves no stone unturned to narrate the birds' full biography."
– Mark Cocker, Eastern Daily Press
"[...] In some respects this book has been 70 years in the making. Back in 1943, it was included in a list drawn up by the New Naturalist series editors of 30 or so possible titles. Until now, it was the only one of those titles to have escaped publication. So, has it been worth the wait? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Mike Toms has succeeded admirably in writing a book that is detailed and authoritative yet, at the same time, accessible and highly enjoyable to read. [...] The book is superbly illustrated with numerous high-quality colour photographs placed within the text, where they are most relevant. This adds much to the feel of the book and is such an improvement on the still all-too-common practice of having photographs grouped together in blocks of plates. As an up-to-date overview of a popular group of birds, this book is one of the very best of its kind. I would have no hesitation in recommending it both to keen students of owls and to those with a more casual interest who are keen to learn more."
- Ian Carter, 15-04-2014, http://britishbirds.co.uk
"[...] This is an informative and well-presented book on Britain’s owls. For those who are interested in collecting the ‘New Nats’ series then this will be another fine addition to the collection, but before you put it on the shelf to join the others – read it. You won’t be disappointed."
- Jeff R Martin, BTO book reviews
Editors' Preface vii
Author's Foreword and Acknowledgement ix
1. Introducing Owls 1
2. Foods and Feeding 55
3. Breeding Ecology 107
4. Movements 178
5. Mortality 201
6. Owls and Humans 261
7. Guide to British Owls 287
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Mike Toms is an ornithologist who has been with the British Trust for Ornithology since 1994. His starting role at the Trust was to organise the first robust and repeatable national survey of the UK's Barn Owl population. Since then he has helped to set up the national Barn Owl Monitoring Programme, examined the calling behaviour of Tawny Owls and carried out the Non-native Species Secretariat's risk assessment for Eagle Owls. A strong advocate for 'citizen science' and the effective communication of science to a broader audience, he is the author of a number of books, including The Migration Atlas, and a regular contributor to BBC Wildlife magazine. He is a keen amateur naturalist in the traditional sense and likes nothing better than being out in the field.