Tawny Owl - Food for Thought?

A number of people have asked us about the likely status of the Tawny Owl at Castle Ward.

Assuming that the bird shows no signs of captivity (eg a non BTO ring, feather \ bare part damage), then could it be possible that this is NI's first naturally occurring Tawny Owl?

Tawny Owl is a widespread breeding resident in GB. However more recently and importantly, breeding has been confirmed in the Isle of Man. Tawny Owl is also regarded as sedentary but ringing recoveries have included a bird ringed in Wales that was recovered in Scotland - so movements can occur, particularly of young birds. It is therefore tempting to think that from Castle Ward, you are within sight of Tawny Owls on the coast of Great Britain and the Isle of Man.

The location is also fitting with where a Tawny Owl (or any westward expanding species) could be expected. It is coastal and within a few miles of Castle Ward, birders were watching a Montagu's Harrier on its migration, the week before.

It is also worth highlighting a recent NI record. On the 17/02/2012, Paul McCullogh and Anne Dowling found a dead Tawny Owl in the Kennedy Way Industrial Estate, Belfast. It was found on the Bog Meadows side of the factory and it was not ringed etc. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not in the loading bay and had not come off a lorry! Local falconers when asked had no information to indicate it was an escaped bird. On the back of the publicity over the Castle Ward Tawny Owl, there have also been recent reports of a calling bird in Carrickfergus.

Tawny Owl , found dead in Belfast in 2012 - Paul McCullogh
However, it is also known that the situation with raptors in NI is complex due to escaped falconry birds. The recent Gyr Falcon at the Giants Causeway is a prime case in point. It was in the right location and the right habitat - but was ringed. Unlike Tawny Owl, Gyr Falcons are also known to move considerable distances.

The Castle Ward Tawny Owl is wary and has to date not shown any reported behavior to indicate that it was once in captivity (nor does it show a ring). Irrespective of status, it has to be said that seeing and hearing a Tawny Owl in this habitat in Ireland, in such a grand and majestic location is a wonderful experience.

If you have any information on Tawny Owls (either for GB or Ireland, and perhaps the status of birds within falconry) that you feel will help inform the current situation, please feel free to email us at nibirds@live.co.uk

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