I am writing this blog on 5 August - the anniversary of my encounter with a curious owl. On this day in 2003 I was walking in a local conifer wood when I saw a dark shape in the distance. It was a owl and it flew down the forest drive towards me. To my surprise it kept coming until eventually it flew over my head where it turned in a 90 degree arc and landed on the nearest tree - a 4 metre high Sitka spruce on my right. The owl looked intently at me for about half a minute before it took off, flew across the drive and landed on my left on another spruce, this time at head height. Again the bird looked at me, but this time it moved its head in a circular fashion as I have seen young Barn Owls do. After 20 seconds of this, it flew off and glided away down the track until it disappeared from view. Throughout the entire time it remained silent.

When I first saw the bird silhouetted in flight I had presumed it to be a Tawny Owl. However, when it landed I could see it had orange eyes and long flattened ear tufts. Add to that its 'flat wing' posture, the lack of a pale trailing edge to those wings and its relatively small size (clearly smaller than a Tawny Owl), and I knew I was looking at a young Long-eared Owl.

Why did the owl behave as it did? I don't wish to ascribe human motivation, yet I suspect that this bird was simply curious and wanted to take a closer look. Perhaps this young owl had never seen a human being before. Could that be the reason it was not alarmed enough either to make a cry or to raise those distinctive ear tufts?

Mark Winter

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