Almost everyone has a weakness for owls. Of course we knew that long before Harry Potter. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't love these birds.
Is it because their hint of mystery? Because they look funny? Or because their wise look? Who knows! Owls can fly silently with their special feathers (with serrated edges) and their feathered legs. Here is an overview of the European owls. Which one's your favourite? Which one would you ask for for your birthday?
The Barn Owl is an outsider amongst the owls (like the Swift is among the swallows). To watch a Barn Owl, you’ve got to sacrifice your sleep, because these birds are only active at night. Do you want to shoot this species with artificial light? Be aware of what you are doing as this bird is easily frightened.
The presence of Short-eared Owls is difficult to predict. One year they are there, the next year you'd have to search for them with a magnifying glass. Sometimes they breed on the Wadden Islands (the Netherlands). They look like Long-eared Owls, but the ‘ears’ are smaller and their irises are yellow, in contrast to the red irises of the Long-eared Owl. The Short-eared Owl can count on a lot of attention, once as it’s residence is known.
The Little Owl is a permanent resident throughout its territory. Therefore, as a photographer you must be very careful not to disturb its habitat. Is this the smallest owl in Europe? No there is even a smaller owl, as you’ll find out later on.
Albino Long-eared Owl?
Who doesn’t know this owl with its funny ears? By the way, these ‘ears’ are no real ears, but decorative feathers. The ears of owls are situated asymmetrically; one ear is more further back than the other, allowing them to hear better.
Snowy Owls are wanderers, so these owls may find their way into The Netherlands, with or without the help of a ship. Did you know that this species bred in the northernmost part of the United Kingdom in the 1960s?
Great Grey Owl
This grey owl lives in Scandinavia, but also in the eastern part of Europe, such as Ukraine. The species is expanding westward and is already breeding in Poland. The Great Grey Owl is a large owl, but catches only mice.
The Ural Owl is a larger version of our Tawny Owl. They can be very aggressive by their nests. You can find these owls in a mixture of deciduous and coniferous forest.
This owl is even smaller than our Little Owl. In addition to the smaller size, significant differences to the Little Owl are also a shorter eyebrow stripe and a longer tail. Despite its small size, a Pygmy Owl can catch mice and birds, like tits.
The Scops Owl occurs only in the southern part of Europe. They are rarely reported in The Netherlands. This owl species is an expert at hiding, helped by the good camouflage of the plumage.
Boreal Owl or Tengmalm's Owl
The Boreal Owl is only active at night, which is surprising because of their yellow irises. Usually, night hunters such as tawny owls and barn owls have completely black eyes.
The Eagle Owl is the largest owl on our planet! This owl is even able to outwit a cat and a Northern Goshawk as prey. How brutal! The Eagle Owl is on the rise in The Netherlands; more and more couples are breeding here every year.
Northern Hawk Owl
A couple of years ago all Dutch bird photographers watched the Northern Hawk Owl in Zwolle (The Netherlands). Some birdwatchers also saw this species in Drenthe (2005). This species is tame, I'd even dare to say very tame: in Zwolle, the Northern Hawk Owl ducked between birdwatchers to the ground to catch a mouse!
Youngling meets youngling and that's just in the area where I live. I saw, with amazement, both had a lot to tell each other. The conversation went on and on and my astonishment only grew with each passing minute. What were they talking about? I asked both the fledgling and the tot, but they didn’t want to make any statements about it. That’s just my luck! What I did understand though was that I will never be as close with a Tawny Owl as this little lady…