Wildlife Column: Listen out for the local Tawny Owls
As day-length extends, with a few warm sunny days, birdlife responds quite quickly. One of the first birds to hold territory and start breeding is the tawny owl, a species that according to bodies like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has declined alarmingly.
Yet this is ‘common’ owl of ‘to-whit too-woo’ fame is one bird that everybody knows or at least used to know. When I was a pupil at King Edward’s School, we used to walk from Norton Lees and down through Meersbrook Park to catch the Circular Bus at Heeley Baths. On the way through the Park, if time permitted, you could slope off into the wood to view the daytime roosting owls looking pretty much like this picture. Half-asleep and safe in their high perch, the tawnies lazily gazed down at us perhaps easy in the knowledge that they were out of harm’s way. Interestingly, around a century before that time, Sheffield’s own Charles Dixon had pioneered ‘ornithology’ and ‘bird-watching’ in that same magical parkland. In his case though, it was of course before Sheffield had sprawled out to absorb Heeley and Meersbrook into the dirty Victorian metropolis.
Over the following century, the city sucked nature out of this once-beautiful area of countryside, and looking back, the mere survival of my tawny owls was pretty much a miracle. However, in a landscape that had by then lost all of its birds of prey and much more besides, the tawnies of Meersbrook were a ray of light through the industrial smog!
They are still around in the suburbs today and do well in parks, woods, and larger gardens. However, we can’t afford to take them for granted as like many wild species they face an uncertain future. In the meantime, do listen and look out for the tawny owls in your neighbourhood and let me know if you have them.
Also, as it is still early in the year, if you haven’t done so already, do consider joining the Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, or your local neighbourhood conservation group – to support nature on your doorstep.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.