In all bird species, there is one that stands out above all others. Although, in the case of the tawny owl, its fame is because it is the variant of its species that is most distributed around the globe.
Where do you live?
It receives the scientific name of Strix aluco, and it is a medium-sized raptor that usually lives in the forests of Eurasia and some areas of central and eastern Asia.
It can be found in deciduous and mixed forests, and sometimes in mature coniferous plantations, liking more areas with water availability. Interestingly, thanks to places such as gardens, cemeteries, and parks, it has been possible to spread in urban areas, such as central London, where it is very common to see.
If I see one, how can I tell it apart?
One of the things that helps distinguish this bird from the rest of its relatives is its stocky and stocky appearance. It can measure 40 cm in length and weigh 600 grams.
Its head is wide and round, lacking plumes on the ears, as happens to the horned owl. Unlike the rest of the members of its species, its eyes are of a single color, which can be black or dark brown. The facial disc that surrounds them is simple, of a brownish-gray color. It has a strong, sharp, and curved greenish-yellow beak that allows it to destroy its prey.
It presents sexual dimorphism, since the female is larger than the male, being 5% wider and 25% heavier. When it returns, it is quite quiet, which makes it a very fearsome predator in its habitat.
There are many discrepancies between the number of subspecies it has, however, specialists have described between 10 – 15 subspecies:
- Strix aluco aluco: It is the nominal subspecies, which lives in northern and central Europe, extending from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
- Strix aluco sylvatica: Resides in western Europe, as well as Great Britain.
- Strix aluco nivicola: It ranges from Nepal to southeastern China, including Burma and Thailand.
- Strix aluco biddulphi: It is the subspecies that reside in India and Pakistan.
- Strix aluco willkonski: It extends from Palestine to northern Iran, passing through the Caucasus.
- Strix aluco maurifanica: It resides in Northwest Africa, from where it extends from Morocco to Tunisia and Mauritania.
- Strix aluco sanctinicolai: Lives in northeastern Iraq and western Iran.
- Strix aluco ma: It is the subspecies that reside in China and Korea.
- Strix aluco harmsi: Lives in Turkmenistan.
- Strix aluco Siberiae: A subspecies that extends from central Russia through the Urals, west of Siberia.
- Strix aluco yamadae: Lives in Taiwan.
The main discussion for establishing a subspecies is because they are quite different from the nominal species, lacking the brown or gray color that characterizes it. Furthermore, some specimens are larger, or smaller, than the nominal species.
And how do they live?
It is a bird that usually hunts at night, like the rest of its relatives. From a branch, it watches over its surroundings before pouncing on its victim. On rare occasions, it has been seen hunting during the day, except when it has to deal with feeding its young.
Their diet is made up of small forest rodents, such as the red vole, which is one of their most common prey, but they can also hunt young rabbits, small birds, insects such as earthworms and beetles. In urban areas, they usually feed on other birds, such as the mallard and the tridactyl gull. It is not a species that is very tolerant when sharing territory, and it cannot coexist with other species such as the little owl or the long-eared owl, which it can take as prey. If it is moved to an area under construction or an abandoned building, where the owl’s nest, they are expelled from the territory.
The tawny owl mates once they have reached one year of age, and they usually have a monogamous relationship. When they find a home, the couple defends the territory at all times, without expanding it despite the passing of the years.
They nest inside the hollow of a tree, but they can also use old magpie nests, squirrels, take advantage of tree crevices, or even in a nest box. They nest in February. The female can lay up to four eggs, which are incubated by it for a month until the chicks are born, which take 40 days to develop, at which time the feathers come out and can begin to fly.
It is quite a protective species, especially with its chicks. Proof of this is the case of photographer Eric Hosking, who lost an eye when he tried to take pictures of a specimen near its nest. He would give his autobiography the name “An Eye for a Bird” (An eye for a bird). One of the many examples that have shown how violent he can be to protect his home and his family. Although the chicks can already fly at one month of age, the parents take care of them until they are three months old, at which point they do leave the nest to find a home of their own.
For some people, the tawny owl represents a sign of a bad omen. This is how William Shakespeare portrayed him in his play, Julius Caesar. Also, they are part of various myths and legends. In Welsh mythology, they are associated with Blodeuwedd, a woman who betrays Lleu Llaw Gyffes in Math fab Mathonwy’s tale of the ancient Mabinogion. On the other hand, in Wales, it was believed that if a tawny owl was seen in one of the houses in the village, it means that a woman had just lost her virginity. Despite this, the bird has transcended as one of the most curious species in the world.
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