Birdwatch: Young go in search of territory

A tawny owl.
A tawny owl.
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There is much hooting going on now among tawny owls.

Fledglings stayed with their parents for three months while they perfected their hunting skills.

But now the young males are in the middle of an urgent search to find a territory of their own.

Often there is not much new space and a young male has to either fight for land with an existing resident or find an area where the previous owner has died.

If he succeeds the territory is his to keep for the rest of his life, if he fails he will almost certainly starve to death by the end of the winter.

He hoots both to announce his new territory and to attract a female to join him.

The tawny owl’s song is often described as sounding like tu-whit, tu-woo. In fact this is a duet between a pair, the female produces the tu-whit while the male replies with a long hooting tu-whoo.

Recent research has discovered that a female owl can tell a great deal about her prospective mate from his call before she approaches him.

A healthy male with a greater body weight produces lower pitched and more tremulous hoots than a weaker rival whose hoots are higher pitched and shorter in length.

Another much rarer owl has been in the news this week with birders from all over the country heading to Ryhope just south of Sunderland to see a Scops owl,

This tiny owl, only about eight inches tall, was spotted last week by local birder Tom Middleton on his daily walk around his patch, roosting in an elder bush in a small coastal valley near the village, It was still in the same area this week.

This is the first one recorded on the mainland since 2006 when one roosted in the village of Thrupp, Oxfordshire and is the first in the North-East for about 100 years.

Scops owls breed around the Mediterranean and migrate to Africa for the winter. They have an unusual call, a one note ‘pew pew pew’ whistle a little like a car alarm, although there are no reports of the Ryhope bird calling.

More yellow-browed warblers have been arriving along the east coast while inland one was present along the River Aire next to the St Aidan’s site near Leeds, picked up among the dense vegetation by its high pitched sweet call.

No doubt more will be discovered in the same way, with sycamore trees a particular favourite.

A pectoral sandpiper was seen at Hatfield Moors, while there were also 26 little stints and eight curlew sandpipers among the other waders.

A juvenile rose-coloured starling and juvenile red-backed shrike continued to be seen in the same area at Easington while a red-breasted flycatcher was present in the Crown and Anchor car park at Kilnsea.

A wryneck has been seen again feeding along a path leading to the Wath Ings hide at the RSPB’s Old Moor reserve.