Owls are said to be a witch’s companion and this Halloween, the Wild Watch in Nidderdale AONB is asking people to keep their ears and eyes open to spot the real deal.
Solange Ponce, The Wild Watch Project Assistant, said: “Owls really capture our imaginations at this time of year. Ancient Rome considered the birds as harbingers of evil, whereas Ancient Greece associated them with wisdom. As nocturnal birds with wide eyes and distinctive calls they are bewitching, but Britain’s most beloved birds are being lost at an alarming rate.”
One quarter of British birds are on the red list of conservation concern. The tawny owl and short-eared owl are on the amber list of birds of conservation concern.
The Wild Watch launched Owl Watch in the spring, distributing Freepost postcards across the AONB with a guide to identify the different species in the area: the tawny owl, barn owl, short eared owl and little owl. Part of their citizen science work to help map wildlife, the team is hoping the public will continue its detection skills to collate data to help inform national owl protection strategies.
The data collected will be submitted to the British Trust of Ornithology who are collating a national database on tawny owls.
To date, Owl Watch has collated 366 reports of sightings since April, equating to 386 owls. Of the 386 total owls recorded, there were 160 barn owls, 162 tawny owls, 55 little owls and nine short-eared owls.
Professor John Altringham, adviser to the Wild Watch, said: “Your response to the Owl Watch project has been astonishing. Your invaluable data is revealing the distribution and ecology of these charismatic birds in unprecedented detail. But we are not finished yet - keep those records coming in!”
The survey helps gather baseline data of where owls live in Nidderdale AONB, helping inform how and where best to conserve them. The biggest threats of owl decline in the UK is from human activity, with loss of habitat along with persecution and poisoning of their food.
Solange said: “Owl Watch offers a meaningful way to develop your natural history skills. We really want to encourage children to take part in Owl Watch, and grow up to be the custodians of our countryside. It offers a magical adventure for people of all ages. This time of year is perfect to spot the tawny owl, and if you head out at dusk, you’ll get the added bonus of bats.”
Owls are typically the top predators in their ecosystem as they have no known predators in the UK. A presence of owls suggest a healthy ecosystem; they keep in check populations of animals that would otherwise be considered a ‘pest’ such as rodents which, in large numbers, can damage a farmer’s crop.
Solange added: “We have a duty to protect these beautiful birds and to increase their population numbers back to their natural state, and so to do this we must first monitor them.”
Email your owl sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the species, grid reference and date/time of sighting, or Tweet to #tweettwho.
How to spot owls
Depending on the colour of the owl’s eyes, it reflects what time of the day they hunt in. The tawny owl has black eyes for hunting at night in a woodland. The little owl has yellow eyes for hunting during around dawn and dusk when there is still light.
Barn owls swoop over fields listening and looking for prey only a few metres above the ground, they have incredible hearing abilities - the most sensitive of any animal ever tested. However, their hunting technique puts them in to harm’s way when whilst hunting they can swoop over roads and get killed by cars.
Owls have incredibly soft feathers and that is why you cannot hear them flying and they make incredible predators. You’re more likely to hear an owl. Listen out for the ‘twit-twoo’ of the tawny owl, a ‘ree-yow’ call from female short eared owls, and the ‘wherrow wherrow’ call of the little owl.
All calls can be heard on the Wild Watch website, where you can also view the interactive owl map: www.thewildwatch.org.uk