Very Welcome Visitors

Who’s hiding in here?

We knew they were there, because we’d heard them. But we didn’t know exactly where. They kept themselves well concealed, only moving about at night, until we stumbled upon their secret hiding place.

Who or what are they? Owls. A pair of long-eared owls (moyen duc in French; scientific name: Asio otus), which have chosen to roost in an ivy-covered tree in our garden.

Long-eared owl, by Alastair Rae, London UK. Wikimedia Commons

I have always been very fond of owls. Hearing their eerie calls while sitting by the fire on a winter’s night is, for me, an evocative pleasure of living in the countryside. The area around us is wooded and dotted with old barns and abandoned houses, where owls can nest and breed virtually undisturbed. Barn owls regularly take up residence in our own barn.

Des res for owls

Investigative work

For several weeks, we have heard the moyen duc’s breathy, regular hooting at night. It is apparently the male that calls. Well, it seems to have done the trick, because there are two of them. I presume they are a breeding pair.

The SF (statistics-obsessed husband) scared them out of their roost one day by walking past. The next day, I went to investigate. I crept up as quietly as possible. The evidence was there: white droppings on the ivy leaves. I looked straight upwards from there and eyeing me was a rather startled-looking face with orange eyes and black ear-tufts (actually they aren’t ears, but they are called that anyway). If only I’d had my camera!

Evidence of occupation

This second unwarranted intrusion into their roost was as intolerable as the first. The owl burst out of the ivy and glided away on silent wings. A few seconds later, the second one exited the other side of the tree and flew off to join its mate. They must roost facing each other since, each time, one flies out of the front and the other out of the back of the tree. Unless this is a kind of defensive tactic to confuse the enemy.

I tried again today, this time with the camera, but they were too quick for me. So I can only show you a Wikimedia photo of one, above. I snapped some owl pellets beneath the tree, composed of the undigested bits of prey. There were quite a lot of them, so the tree had clearly been occupied for some time.

Further evidence – owl pellets

I don’t want to frighten the owls off for good. They have had enough disturbances already, since Philippe decided yesterday to brush-cut his field edges on the other side of the hedgerow from their roost. Once again, they had to escape.

Native species

Moyen ducs live here all year round. In the winter, they sometimes roost in groups. They then breed between February and July, often nesting in the discarded nest of a crow or magpie. They lay clutches of four to six eggs.

These owls are about 35-37 cm in height with a wingspan of almost a metre. They look taller because of the “ears”, which they raise when alarmed. Their function is to make the owl look bigger than it is. The female is larger and darker in colour than the male.

We have come across these wonderful birds before. Once, unfortunately, we found a dead one that had caught its foot in a split bramble. On another occasion, we saw two fledglings sitting back to back in a tree calling their parents, which were still feeding them. One saw us and shut up. The other was oblivious to our presence and continued to signal its position.

Ivy isn’t good for trees, but there’s a good argument for not stripping it off every tree

When so many species are under threat, it’s good to see that these owls are classified as of Least Concern in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s scheme.

What owl species live around you? Do you have owl tales to tell?

Update

Finally, I have been able to snap one of our moyen ducs, but only its back view as it flew away!

Disappearing act

You might also like:

What a Hoot: in Praise of Owls

Noises Off on a Country Evening

Nightingales in Southwest France

Copyright © 2019 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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16 Responses to Very Welcome Visitors

  1. fatdormouse says:

    I’m always sad when I see dead owls on the motorway – a fairly regular occurence, unfortunately. I assume that they swoop across from one side to the other and hit a car. We have Scops owls around the village and a couple of tawney owls too, who t-wit, t-woo at each other. Owls are indeed wonderful things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      We have come very close to hitting a swooping owl when driving at night. We found a dead barn owl on our lane and couldn’t work out what had killed it. Then we realised it must have sat on the high-tension post above and somehow got electrocuted. Such a pity. It was a beautiful bird. I like Scops owls; they are quite shy birds, but I saw one when it perched in a window in our bedroom. As soon as I moved, it flew off.

      Like

  2. Wonderful!! I’m really quite jealous:) We had them in Italy and I was once startled late on a summer’s night when I was aware of a presence staring, into the bedroom, through the open window … a long-eared owl

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      That must have been exciting! We were once woken by an owl bringing its prey to eat on our bedroom windowsill. Probably a tawny owl. It soon worked out that it wasn’t alone and flew away – taking the prey with it.

      Like

  3. I love hearing the sounds of owls in the night – here we have mainly the petit ducs, and I’ve yet to see one of them in the daylight. Thank you for sharing your owl story – it’s been fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      We also have the petits ducs, which do make themselves visible in daylight, but usually by perching in the window of a ruined house or on a disused pigeonnier. Some years we hear the Scops owl, which makes a regular beeping noise that can go on all night! Some friends in the Lot who live above the river gorge see grands ducs, that nest in the caves in the cliffs. They are quite big birds. I’d love to see one of those!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll have to look up the scops owl, we have plenty of beeping noises going on through the night here!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        You might have scops owls, then. They are about the same size as the petits ducs. Sometimes frogs make the same beeping sound, especially as spring approaches…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know there are toads in my garden, could they make a beeping sound? The frogs are all down by the river and very noisy, but they make the usual ‘frog’ noises 🙂

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      • nessafrance says:

        You have reached just about the extent of my knowledge! A quick internet search shows that the Midwife Toad makes a regular beeping noise, which is heard particularly at night, and they are reasonably common in France. So you might have those. A small green frog also beeps. I wasn’t sure if the noise here was a Scops owl or a toad, until an owl landed in one of our upstairs windows, which have very deep ledges, and beeped away until I moved and frightened it away.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thansk so much for looking all this up for me, Nessa!! I will have to search for pictures of the midwife toad – sounds intriguing!! The toads I have seen in my garden are so well camouflaged, they are the same colour as the earth that they are hardly visible, until they move!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Our toads blend in well, too. I trod on one once. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to do it any harm!

        Like

  4. There is something quite extraordinary and other-worldly about owls I think

    Liked by 2 people

    • nessafrance says:

      The way they glide around noiselessly is almost ghostly. I’m so pleased when we get a rare glimpse of them. A little owl has taken possession of a disused pigeonnier not far from us and sits at the top sunning itself and surveying its domain. I’m always disappointed when we pass by and it’s not there.

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  5. Jacqui says:

    Exactly three years ago today I too blogged about Moyen Duc owls. We had at least ten of them, but as they set off in different directions each time anyone went close, the exact number was impossible to say, in a large bay tree. Sadly not seen such numbers since!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Gosh, what a strange coincidence! It must be the time of year when they are more apparent. I’d read that they often roost in groups (I think a group is called a parliament). Seeing so many at once is amazing! A bay tree would be ideal for roosting, being evergreen and dense. I hope ours will stick around.

      Like

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