a somewhat occasional blog

Owl Conservation Conundrum

Is the Tawny owl alien and invasive to Ireland?


Owl - Tawny Owl Alna Mcbride
Tawny Owl – Courtesy of Alan Mcbride

Tawny owl is a pretty sedate creature. However reading Barn owls and voles in Ireland I was concerned to read :

‘And there’s a new and unexpected risk from yet another potential invader: Britain’s Tawny owl.

Now I may not be correct, but when applied to nature, these words are usually associated species that arrival have given a helping hand by humans. Japanese knotweed, Canada Geese and Grey Squirrels for example. Once introduced by humans, knowingly or unwittingly, they can take over and  threaten native species within the said country. However when a species expands and populates a country of its own volition? Surely this is ‘natural colonisation’?

However when it comes to the owl in question…

Seen hitherto as a highly stay-at-home species (rather like the woodpecker), the tawny owl has been growing its UK population and beginning to fly west, recently breeding for the first time in the Isle of Man. In 2013 the owl turned up in Co Down, not far from Belfast, and there have been unconfirmed reports from Co Kerry.

The tawny owl now figures among potential invasive species: its attendant risk was assessed in 2014 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.’

Early last week I was pleased to  how woodpecker free Ireland was now home to the odd Greater-spotted Woodpecker. This was in Birdwatching Magazine celebrating 30 years publication. The short piece on the pecker was celebratory, rather than negative.

The Tawny owl, it would appear, is considered invasive because it may affect Irish Barn owl populations. Now I am all for Barn owls. They have sadly suffered across the whole of the British Isles.  Does that mean, however, that the Tawny owl should be considered an ‘alien’ just because it summoned up the will to migrate and expand its population ‘naturally’…

And how about Eagles owls?

The Tawny owls predicament in Ireland reminds of the Eagle owl in the UK. About ten years ago there was a similar debate played out.  One side said clamoured invaders, the other migrants..

It is only a short hop across the channel from Northern Belgium where they are known to breed. The Eagle owl is a powerful flyer. But some this possibility just didn’t fit with what the ‘against’ WANTED!  ‘No No No raved the opposition, most notably the RSPB (of which I am a fully paid up member). ‘They are all escapees! Aliens’. the birds were Viking marauders that threatened every members dogs and cats. So it wasn’t about birds. It was about the threat to membership as pets were whisk away to be be placed on stringine menus. Birds would suddenly be very unpopular with Mr and Mrs. And birds membership of nature conservation organisations would plummet. Sound familiar in the human context – fear.

I for one have only ever seen plastic Eagle owls in the UK, perched on roof parapets to scare of pernicious pigeons. There are ‘rumours’ of a few inhabiting quarries in Kent but no reports of mass pet murder!

Let’s celebrate avian courage and colonisation

Most birds that make it here ‘naturally’ we celebrate, the Cetti’s Warbler and the LIttle Egret. Birdwatchers await  the arrival of the perhaps the Cattle Egret and maybe just maybe the Zitting Cisticola with baited breathe. But anything that threatens OUR vision of what nature should be is  an invader, an alien and invasive and therefore should be dealt with. Not that dissimilar to our attitude to human migrants!

So if a Tawny owl has braved the Irish sea, an Eagle owl the North of their own will then lets celebrate this too.  Rejoice at how nature moves on, expands and evolves. And stop trying to make and frame nature to how WE want it to BE.


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