The Tawny Owl, coruja do mato in Portuguese, cárabo común in Spanish, chouette hulotte in French, or Strix aluco in Latin, is a medium-sized nocturnal bird of prey, with grey or reddish-brown plumage and large black eyes. It lives in a wide range of different habitats: woods, forests and urban parks with large old trees. It occurs throughout Europe and can be locally very numerous. It is mainly sedentary. Like most nocturnal birds of prey, it nests in holes in trees and in nests abandoned by crows or by diurnal birds of prey. It feeds on rodents, shrews and large insects which it catches on the ground, from a perch and normally during the night. Its song is a melancholic hooting, that sounds like an ocarina: “huuuuuh………..,hu, hu’hu’hu’huuuuuh”. Heard mainly in the dark of the night, it has been frequently immortalised in films and television documentaries.
The Tawny Owl can be found throughout mainland Portugal and is particularly abundant in oak woods and in Cork and Holm oak forests with old trees that have many holes. It is relatively rare in the large areas of Maritime pine and Eucalyptus in the centre of the country. As it is sedentary, it can be heard throughout the year.
In Europe it is a species classified by BirdLife International as SPEC 4 (species concentrated in Europe but with a favourable conservation status). In Portugal it is not a game species and it is not endangered. There are between 1,000 and 10,000 nesting pairs in the country.
Text: Domingos Leitão – Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves