Owl enclosures open at British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield
- Credit: Matt Binstead
Home to over 40 different native species, the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield has recently opened its new owl enclosures. Here, information officer Liza Lipscombe brings us the low-down on the occupants
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Britain is blessed with seven species of owl, from the diminutive and aptly-named little owl right up to the stately and imposing European eagle owl. These include native and introduced species, as well as seasonal visitors from afar.
Here at The British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield, we are home to all seven species, which can be viewed in the centre’s beautiful new aviaries. Each enclosure has been carefully landscaped and planted to reflect the habitats in which the different owl species can typically be found. The owls are now happily settled in their new home and on public open days they can be seen in flight at the afternoon owl display.
Owls are highly skilled hunters equipped with extraordinary hearing and sight, and a stealthy, silent flight. The nocturnal species have such superb night vision that, along with the ability to locate and interpret sounds, they can target prey with deadly accuracy, even in total darkness.
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The barn owl is one of the world’s most widespread birds and Britain is the northernmost tip of its range. Barn owls prefer open country with trees to provide cover, farmland with hedges and rough grassland. They hunt along field margins and woodland edges and roost in barns and abandoned farm buildings. Usually active at dusk, they can be seen flying low over the ground in a slow, wavering flight with occasional short glides.
Short-eared owls have a wide global distribution, and in the UK numbers are boosted by winter migrants from northern Europe and Russia. They thrive in open spaces: moorland, meadows, heathland, wetland and salt marshes, which provide cover for ground nesting. The short-eared owl hunts by day (diurnal), by night (nocturnal) and at dawn and dusk (crepuscular), flying slowly and low to the ground.
European eagle owls
The largest species of owl in the world, the European eagle owl is easily five times the size of a tawny or barn owl. It lives all over mainland Europe and is able to thrive in a range of environments, from forests to mountains and farmland, but is usually found in rocky habitats. Eagle owls hunt by night in open areas and in forests. Today, a few pairs are known to breed in Britain, but some people believe they have not bred naturally here since the end of the last Ice Age.
The secretive, nocturnal long-eared owl is one of our least known British owls. Long-eared only in name, their upright appendages are actually decorative tufts. Also found in North America, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and parts of Africa, winter migrants join resident long-eared owls in large communal roosts – the only owl species to adopt this behaviour. They prefer woodland or dense vegetation near open grassland or shrubland and hunt at woodland edges and over open ground.
Tawny owls are found in woodland and coniferous forests, but can also be seen in parks and leafy suburbs. It is the tawny owl that emits the soft t’whit-t’whoo that is for many of us the most familiar owl hoot. The tawny is Europe’s most common and widespread owl, found throughout Britain. It is, for the most part, nocturnal, roosting by day in a hollow tree, up against a tree trunk or in a thick bush.
Snowy owls are at home in the Arctic tundra, where their white plumage provides excellent camouflage. They are a rare winter visitor to northern Scotland and the islands, favouring open moorland and grassland. Snowy owls are active during the day, hunting over open land. Thanks to Harry Potter, they have become celebrity A-listers and Hedwig (named after Harry’s feathered friend) is a favourite at the British Wildlife Centre.
The little owl is the most commonly seen owl in Britain, but is actually a recent arrival, introduced into southern England by the Victorians. Little owls frequent farmland and open country with sheltered places to nest and hide such as hedges, stone walls and old buildings. Little owls may be spotted hunting at dawn and dusk, looking out from perches such as posts or telegraph poles. In flight, they can be seen low to the ground following a gently undulating path.
Need to know:
The British Wildlife Centre is located on Eastbourne Road (A22) at Newchapel, near Lingfield RH7 6LF, just 10 minutes from the M25, junction 6. Open every weekend and public holiday (excluding Dec 25/26) and daily during state school holidays. Visit the website for more detailed opening dates and keeper talk times. Tel: 01342 834658. Web: britishwildlifecentre.co.uk
FURTHER WILDLIFE READING
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• Nicholas Owen meets Wildlife Aid’s Simon Cowell
• Discover how the Shalford-based David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is helping to protect the world’s endangered species