One night while away, I was aware of the owls calling in the trees nearby … the familiar hoot that we instantly recognise as the Tawny Owl. After a while, I realised they had settled in the trees just outside the bedroom window. They continued calling, but try as I might I couldn’t see them among the shadows (it was a brightly moonlit night). And then I heard something I’d not heard before – a sort of cross between the hoot and a cat purring, and it became clear there were indeed two owls nearby. This site describes the sound as a warble. The call we heard was gentle, as the first call, not strident as the second and I wonder if in fact they are two separate calls? The owls certainly had no call to be stressed or anxious as the site suggests …

Then there’s a third main call which both sexes appear to make almost indistinguishably. It’s a warbling call in a light, quiet voice, almost “sotto voce”, that can be sustained for some time. What its meaning is and the occasions on which it’s used are not well understood, but in some uses it does appear to indicate that the bird is in an unsettled or anxious state of mind. So, for example, it has been recorded as made by a bird near a forest fire. But it seems to be used in a variety of other situations, especially by arriving males when overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of a mate at the nest. Warble (male & female) (174.70 K)

DH was awake by now, and joined me at the window, but perhaps they noticed him there because they stopped calling at that point. After a while, he left, but I stayed to watch and listen … I heard no movement at all as owls fly silently, but suddenly, there was an owl in perfect silhouette on a branch in front of me. He stayed only a moment, then flew past the window towards the back garden, away from the trees.

It was our last night away, so I had no opportunity to listen again, but it was a very special moment that I shall remember for a long time.

If you’ve never seen a Tawny in daylight (I haven’t!) … take a look at this …

For your info – this site lists calls for a variety of owls.