Where and how to spot an owl
In the past owls have often been linked to the supernatural, with their nocturnal habits and wide staring eyes. If you hear an owl’s hoot then according to folklore a witch is approaching.
These days such superstitions have died out, but there is still something magical about seeing one of these animals in the wild. It’s not an experience that children or adults are likely to forget.
Our experts have put together a few tips to help you spot these fascinating creatures and a selection of places where they have been regularly sighted.
Tips for spotting owls:
‘Barn owls are usually sighted just after dawn and just before dusk. They like to hunt over rough grass where there’s lots of field voles, particularly when it is windless and dry.
‘Listen out for tawny owls. They make the archetypal hooting noise and are most vocal after dusk from mid-October until April.
'Little Owls are often difficult to see because they only fly at night and are intermittently noisy, being silent for lengthy periods. However, on warm and sunny days during the winter, they can sometimes be seen 'basking' in old trees.
‘Short-eared owls come to the UK for winter, from the tundras of Northern Europe. If you see an owl flying in the day it’s most likely to be this species. Look out for them in open spaces and grasslands.’
- Martin Lester, countryside and community manager, Wicken Fen
'Look out for pellets as these are a sure sign that owls are nearby. This is the easiest way to find a barn owl. I often see pellets deposited on gate and fence posts. Dissect them to see the bones of the creatures they have eaten.’
- Nicholas Hinchliffe, ranger, Brockhampton Estate
Owl haunts in the South West
* Tyntesfield, Bristol
‘We have identified tawny and barn owls on the estate. These are mostly heard at night. I have occasionally seen a tawny owl sitting on a fence post around dusk and you can hear them quite regularly.’
- Darren Mait, ranger
* Windmill Hill, Avebury, Middlesex
Keep your eyes peeled here for barn owls.
* Holnicote Estate, Exmoor
This estate is home to tawny owls, barn owls and short-eared owls.
* South Milton Sands, South Devon
This area is home to barn owls and little owls.
Owl haunts in London and the South East
* Osterley Park, Greater London
* Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Barn owls nest in and around the buildings at Stowe and can often be seen at dusk when they are leaving their nests.
* Hatchlands Park, Surrey
There are three types of owl here: barn owls, tawny owls and little owls.
* Polesden Lacey, Surrey
* Mottistone Estate, Gwent
Look out for the distinctive barn owl hunting at dusk.
* Sissinghurst Castle, Kent
Owl haunts in the Midlands
* Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
‘We have little owls, barn owls and tawny owls. Little owls are often spotted in the day on dead trees in the park. Tawny owls are more elusive and will be heard and not seen after dusk. There is one that is regularly seen in a hole in a tree if you know where to look. The barn owls nest in boxes on site and are sometimes seen at dusk.’
- Simon Goodson, warden
* Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire
‘We have tawny owls and barn owls. I’ve heard the tawny owls on many occasions, but rarely seen them. The reason for this is that they don’t make any sound when flying so it’s easy to miss them.’
- Nick Hinchliffe, ranger
* Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Look out for little owls and tawny owls.
Owl haunts in Northern Ireland
* Castle Ward, County Down
This area is home to long-eared owls.
* Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down
Look out for long-eared owls here.
* Strangford Lough, County Down
Barn owls have recently been sighted here.
* Crom, County Fermanagh
There are long-eared owls at Crom.
Owl haunts in the East of England
* Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, Suffolk
Long-eared, short-eared and little owls have been sighted here.
* Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
Barn owls, short-eared owls, tawny owls and little owls have all been sighted here. Harrison’s Drove and Burwell Fen are both good spots.
* Blickling Estate, Norfolk
This is a great spot for barn owls.
* Felbrigg Estate, Norfolk
Owl haunts in Wales
* Stackpole Estate, Pembrokeshire
‘We have a vocal population of tawny owls in Lodge Park Woods and around the lakes.’
- Alex Shilling, ranger
* Penbryn Beach, Cardigan
Look out for barn owls hunting at dusk.
* Llanerchaeron, Dyfed
* Craflwyn, Gwynedd
Owl haunts in the North West
* Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
Barn owls build their nests in the buildings and around the woods here.
* The Atlantic Oakwoods, Borrowdale, Cumbria
Bird species here include barn owls, tawny owls and little owls.
* Friar’s Crag, Borrowdale, Cumbria
Listen out for the distinctive ‘toowhit-twhoo’ of the tawny owl.
* Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve, Cumbria
* Sizergh, Cumbria
* Silverdale, Cumbria
* Speke Hall, Merseyside
Owl haunts in the North East