How many of the five species of UK owl have you ever seen? They can be notoriously difficult to track down - most of them are out and about when the rest of us are tucked up inside, they come well camouflaged, and some make their homes in hard-to-reach places.

You might be more likely to hear an owl's call than to see it in the feather, but can you tell your tawny from your barn owl by sound alone?

Tawny owl (Strix aluco)

Look out for

Large black eyes
Streaked brown plumage

Call

Female: sharp 'ke-wick'
Male: wavering 'hoohoo'  

Best time to hear

Autumn evenings when pairs begin courting, ready for nesting as early as February. Found in woodland habitats, but also churchyards, towns and cities with mature trees.

Audio: Dominic Garcia-Hall / xeno-canto.org

Barn owl (Tyto alba)

Look out for

White undersides and face
Pale brown and grey wings and back

Call

Shrill screech, earning them the nickname 'screech owl'.

Best time to hear

At the beginning of the spring breeding season when males screech to attract females to nest. Females also produce contact calls to beg males for food.

Audio: Patrik Åberg / xeno-canto.org

Little owl (Athene noctua)

Look out for

Eye mask-shaped face
Pale yellow eyes

Call

Short, repetitive 'woop' or sharper 'kiew kiew'.

Best time to hear

During the breeding season from April when males advertise territories. Look for them in tree-rich farmland and pasture across England.

Audio: Patrik Åberg / xeno-canto.org

Long-eared owl (Asio otus)

Look out for

Distinctive 'ear tufts'
Orange eyes

Call

Male song: repeated 'hoo hoo hoo'
Female call: higher-pitched 'hoo'
Male and female call: cat-like 'ree-yow'

Best time to hear

Rarely heard, and only ever during the breeding season in early spring. Look for them roosting in thickets and dense trees in well-wooded countryside. 

Audio: Peter Boesman / xeno-canto.org

Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)

Look out for

Striking yellow eyes
Round, grey face

Call

Male song: fast and repetitive 'hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo' 
Male and female call: harsh bark

Best time to hear

The males' song is rarely heard in the UK, but birds will call to one another when gathered at winter hunting grounds. Sometimes breeds on moorland in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Audio: Stuart Fisher / xeno-canto.org

Learn more about woodland birds