Tawny Owl Folklore
The Tawny Owl shares all those mixed messages associated with owls in general, be they good or bad, wise or wicked. If the Barn Owl provides our stock image of the bird then it is the Tawny Owl that provides the sound track - from Harry Potter to Midsomer Murders. But that classic “To Whit To Woo” is in it self a bit of a myth probably being an amalgam of ‘ke-wick’ made by a female with a male answering ‘hoo-hoo-ooo’. It’s thought that it is a misrepresentation derived from Shakespeare trying to make the overlapping calls fit into a verse in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Also know as the Brown Owl, it owes it’s place in the Girl Guide Hall of Fame thanks to an appearance in The Brownie Story when two children visit the Brown Owl in the woods to find out how they can help with the housework! Not quite so benevolent is the owl’s appearance in Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin when a group of brave squirrels travel to Owl Island and have to offer Owl Brown a gift to gain permission to gather nuts. Squirrel Nutkin taunts the owl with riddles and eventually Owl Brown snaps and nearly skins him alive.
The fact that the Tawny or Brown Owl is not found in Ireland gives rise to the belief that it does not like to fly over water – but this in itself may be a myth as a small population seems to have recently established itself on the Isle of Man.
Definitely not a myth is the Tawny Owls’ reputation for aggression, particularly when protecting their young. The pioneer bird photographer Eric Hosking lost an eye to a Tawny Owl while trying to photograph it. His biography was aptly titled ‘An Eye For A Bird’. Bird ringers sometimes wear crash helmets with visors to protect themselves when ringing baby tawnies.