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
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
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
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.
"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