Winter birding: tawny owls on the Regent’s Canal – London

Seek out these charismatic woodland birds in the centre of London

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev


The colder months can be a quiet time for wildlife, but winter and early spring is one of the best times to see birds on and around the waterways. And while dropping temperatures means that some familiar faces leave for warmer climes, it also brings large numbers of migrant species to our shores, attracted by our relatively mild climate, and draws year round-residents into new habitats making some British favourites easier to spot.

The centre of London may not seem the most likely bird watching spot, but a group (or ‘parliament’) of tawny owls have made the city their home and adapted to a more urban life among the hustle and bustle of the capital. One of the most common spots to find them is Regent’s Park where the open areas of rough grassland make an ideal hunting ground, and nesting spots are plentiful in the branches of the park’s mature trees.

Similar in size to a woodpigeon, both male and female tawny owls have mottled brown plumage, a rounded face and large brown eyes. During the day, the birds roost in trees, but come dusk you might spot them on the wing, hunting for voles and mice. This is also when you will hear their unique calls – the female ‘kewick’ and the male reply, ‘hoohoo’.

Completed in 1820, the Regent’s Canal provided a key route for commercial traffic into the city of London. Around a mile of the canal runs along the northern edge of Regent’s Park, so it makes a great spot for a twilight walk. After dusk, listen out for the owl’s distinctive hooting and keep your eyes peeled for the birds swooping between trees overhead.

During the day, venture further into the park and look for owl pellets beneath mature trees to spot favoured roosting locations. The weather is often milder in the city, so Regent’s Park owls often breed a little earlier than their rural counterparts, with young emerging in the late winter or early spring. The owlets leave the nest before they can fly, so you might be lucky enough to spot one clambering between branches.

Read more about the Regent’s Canal on the Canal & Trust website.