Mystery deaths of Tawny Owls
Ever since we erected two Tawny Owl boxes in 2000 on our land at Bliss Gate near Bewdley, we have had a nesting pair in one box or the other during most years.
On 2nd April 2012 my farmer neighbour telephoned me to tell me that there were two dead Tawny Owls lying close together in his field and he could not tell how they had died. He said that they had certainly not been there when he had visited the field five days previously. Although the birds had been moved up off the ground, I could see the feathers on the grass indicating where they had been found originally (see photograph). Examination showed that these had been plucked and not chewed off.
Close examination of the birds indicated that one had lost its head and both had had their breast meat removed (see photograph). In addition there were broken sections taken out of the sternum indicating that a bird of prey had been involved. There was no other damage that I could see and no feathers on the back of the birds appeared to have been disturbed.
I have never known a bird of prey take Tawny Owls before, although Golden Eagles, Goshawks and Buzzards are documented to have done so. We have plenty of Buzzards around and for the last three years a pair has nested in a large oak tree about 200m away from where the dead owls were found.
I have previously written in Worcestershire Record (2004) how I’d recorded Buzzards flying across our valley before sunrise whilst it was still dark, so I know that there is a possibility that these two species could be flying time at the same time. I was interested in the note from Graham and Marie-Anne Martin (2007) of a Buzzard attacking a Barn Owl. But have we any other local records of Tawny Owls being killed by Buzzards? It would be interesting to know!
Martin, Graham & Marie-Anne. 2007. What do buzzards eat? Worcestershire Record 21:21-22
Winnall, R. 2004. What do buzzards eat …..! Worcestershire Record 16:8-9
Fig. 1. Site where two dead Tawny Owls were found showing plucked feathers. Rosemary Winnall
Fig. 2. Two dead Tawny Owls. Rosemary Winnall