Why do tawny owls hoot to each other?

Firstly, what is a tawny owl?

The tawny owl is a medium-sized owl found across much of Eurasia. Although they are considered medium size, they are actually about the size of a pigeon and have very stocky bodies. Because of their nocturnal nature, seeing a tawny owl can be very rare and they are hardly ever seen during the day unless they are disturbed and need to move fast. They are quite widespread in Britain but are missing from many of the British Islands, as they really hate flying over water.

The females are extremely ferocious and will stop at nothing to protect their nests and their young. A BBC wildlife photographer famously lost an eye to a tawny owl while trying to approach a nest.

The ‘twit twoo’ of the tawny owl

The tawny owl is Britain’s most common woodland owl (however it can’t be found in Ireland). Tawny owls are extremely vocal, making their notorious ‘twit twoo’ noise, although they do have many calls that people will rarely hear.

The characteristic ‘twit twoo’ sounds made by tawny owls aren’t exactly what they seem. These sounds aren’t made by single owls, but pairs of birds making different sounds. The recordings below are two different owls each calling out to its neighbours.


Listen to a tawny owl call:


This first recording is a female tawny owl, making the ‘twit’ sound:


This second recording is the male’s hoot:


Bird specialists call the female’s fall a ‘ke-wick’. It’s a contact call, and it helps owls keep track of others around them in the dark. The male’s hoot can reply to the female’s ‘ke-wick’, and also lets other male owls know that this territory belongs to him.

These birds are monogamous, and choose partners for life when they reach one year of age. Males and females have a nest each and sleep separately when they don’t have young to protect, but build a communal roost when the female is ready to lay her eggs.



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Image from flickr.com/photos/captainc