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Academic & Professional Books  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey

The Tawny Owl

By: Jeff R Martin(Author), John Davis(Illustrator)
304 pages, 8 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w distribution maps, tables
The first-ever species monograph of the Tawny Owl.
The Tawny Owl
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  • The Tawny Owl ISBN: 9781472980694 Paperback Sep 2022 In stock
  • The Tawny Owl ISBN: 9781472943569 Hardback Sep 2022 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
Selected version: £34.99
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About this book

The haunting calls of the Tawny Owl can be heard from Scandinavia in the north of its range to North Africa in the south. Most people would consider it to be a common and widespread species throughout Europe, but populations in Britain at least are declining, and we need to understand more about the behaviour and ecology of this magnificent woodland bird if its future is to be secured.

Jeff Martin has been studying owls for decades, and in this timely book he combines his personal observations together with those of other ornithologists and a comprehensive review of the literature, resulting in some surprising revelations. It was not long ago, for example, that the Tawny Owl was considered to be one of the most nocturnal of all owl species, but in recent years it has been observed sunbathing, calling and even hunting in broad daylight.

The Tawny Owl begins by exploring the research that has been undertaken over the last two centuries, and the gaps that remain in our knowledge. Subsequent chapters detail the evolution and classification of this relatively young species, its status and distribution across Europe, its feeding, breeding and behavioural ecology, why numbers are falling, and what we can do about it. Interestingly, this silent hunter appears to be increasingly preying on passerine birds, as forest degradation and destruction have had a negative impact on small mammal numbers.

The book concludes by looking at the role that Tawny Owls have played in British culture, and whether the changes in behaviour and plumage among the British population could mean we have a new subspecies evolving on our island.


Preface and acknowledgements

1. Introduction and influences
2. Origins
3. Classification and physiology
4. Status and distributions
5. Behavioural traits
6. Territory and species relationships
7. The senses
8. Flight, plumage and moult
9. Feeding ecology
10. Nesting, fledging and dispersal
11. Factors influencing numbers
12. Conservation
13. Folklore, superstitions and culture
14. An island race?

Appendix 1. Scientific names of species mentioned in the text
Appendix 2. Selected examples of prey diversity
Appendix 3. Habitat and food preferences of the main small mammal prey
Appendix 4. Location map of UK Bird Observatories


Customer Reviews (1)

  • Lacking in a few areas
    By Keith 3 May 2023 Written for Paperback
    Given that the Tawny Owl is Europe’s most common owl it is surprising that this is the first book to focus solely on the species. Those wanting information have mostly turned to Owls of Europe by Heimo Mikkola (T & AD Poyser, 1983) and the highly-respected scientific papers by Mick Southern from the 1950s/60s, and more recent times by Steve Petty, Steve Percival and Graham Hirons. So this species does deserve its own book.

    The format follows that of a typical Poyser monograph by setting the scene for the species and its classification and physiology. Status and distribution are discussed by each subspecies, and the author includes mauritanica in this section, suggesting that it should be split as Witherby’s Owl. This ignores the fact that all three of the classification authorities split this off as a new species called Mahgreb Owl Strix mauritanica in 2020.

    The next chapter discusses behavioural traits and includes a focus on daytime calling which the author feels is a new and growing trend. Is it? There is then a section on territory and species relationships. This includes discussion on possible interactions with Common Buzzards Buteo buteo and Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis. The author suspects that both species are causing declines in Tawny Owls. Certainly, a small number of owlets end up falling prey to Buzzards, but what data there is suggests this is insignificant. The more worrying impact on Tawny Owls could be from the growing British population of Pine Martens Martes martes, a species which has been shown to predate owls at much higher levels in Europe. This is referred to in a later chapter.

    A section on senses assesses how well these birds are adapted for their nocturnal activities. Similarly, a chapter on flight, plumage and moult discusses plumage variation across the species’ range among other topics. The section on feeding ecology is quite short by comparison. This is a surprise because there is a wealth of recent scientific papers from many parts of Europe where studies have thrown up interesting regional and habitat-related variations.

    The chapter on nesting, fledging and dispersal is more substantial, bringing together many different aspects, particularly from British studies. One of these is the matter of sea crossings. Here the author suggests that despite evidence to the contrary, sea crossings may take place as evidenced by 100 birds ringed at eight British bird observatories. Given that every one of the 4430 retraps of Tawny Owls recorded by the BTO are of birds in Britain, I think any birds at observatories are likely to be local movements – not least as all were within a few miles of resident Tawny Owls.

    In the chapters that explore factors that influence numbers, the author concludes that Britain’s growth in urban development is a major driving force in causing declines that have been noted for several decades. This is certainly backed up by recent survey work by the BTO. However, his suggestion that cats are likely to be another significant factor by catching small mammals in gardens seems far-fetched. Other research has shown that urban Tawny Owls specialise more in catching small birds.

    There are also sections on conservation, folklore, superstitions and culture. There are some useful illustrations showing colour variations, and a set of attractive sketches by John Davis. However, the book is visually lacking in some other areas. For example, the only map of the European range is a poor monochrome representation with no country borders marked. Given that both European Atlases are referred to in the text, it is a missed opportunity not to use their maps showing both distribution and change. Meanwhile, a fairly irrelevant map of British bird observatories is given a full page!

    In summary, this book lacks the succinct and authoritative nature that we have come to expect from the Poyser monographs. The style is more conversational and much of what is stated is personal opinion. The author is an acknowledged authority on Barn Owls, but that said, I fear that an opportunity has been missed here.
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Jeff Martin is a field ornithologist with a passion for studying owls and the small mammal species that they rely upon for food. His keen observations led to him being appointed Suffolk Mammal Recorder in the 1990s, until his research on owls eventually took over his available time. He has previously written two books about Barn Owls in Britain and The Barn Owl: Guardian of the Countryside, but in recent years the Tawny Owl has become the focus of his attention. He lives in Essex.

By: Jeff R Martin(Author), John Davis(Illustrator)
304 pages, 8 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w distribution maps, tables
The first-ever species monograph of the Tawny Owl.
Media reviews

"Jeff Martin explores the Tawny Owl's natural history in the greatest detail. Where controversy has arisen in the literature, he has put forward all points of view so the reader can make his or her own judgements. There seems nothing concerning the biology of this owl that Jeff has not researched."
– Derek Bunn, author of The Barn Owl

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