Status in Northern Ireland:
Scarce breeder; winter visitors more common. Listed as a Northern Ireland Priority Species.
A medium-sized owl with mottled pale yellow-brown-buff white upper plumage with pale underparts that are heavily streaked. In certain light can look surprisingly whitish. Pale facial disc with distinct black patches around bright yellow eyes. Head is round with two tiny often concealed ‘ear tufts’ set near the centre of the forehead. A predominantly diurnal open-country species, it can be seen on upland moorland, young coniferous plantations, coastal marshes, and lowland rough grassland where it hunts for small mammals and birds, sometimes insects. This species has a spectacular courtship display including undulating flight with short bursts of wing-clapping. Communal winter roosting is not uncommon. As a ground-nester, this owl is particularly vulnerable to predators. Other threats include afforestation, peat extraction and drainage, over-grazing and fluctuating prey cycles.