A Day Out With the Little Owls

A Day Out With the Little Owls

Wildlife photography has always been a passion for me. It's not something that pays the bills, but it's something that I love, and it is great for my own mental health. Recently, I was informed of a family of Little Owls in England, and the young Owlets had just begun fledging from the nest. I took the near three-hour drive down to the location and watched these beautiful creatures.

Paul Fowlie is a wildlife photographer based in Yorkshire, England and runs various workshops or days out across the UK and Europe such as Little Owls, Red Squirrels, White Tailed Sea Eagles, and trips to Svalbard. In this case, he has been observing a family of Little Owls the past few years near his home, and he has set up some pop-up tent hides nearby to capture images. 

Serial Killer?

I contacted Paul who kept me informed about the Little Owls and how they were doing, Paul continued to provide updates and was pleased to inform me that there were now three Owlets on site. From then on, it was a matter of waiting for the young to grow older and hope that they would fledge around the date I had booked to visit. 

Sure enough, a few days before my journey, the Owlets had begun fledging and coming out of their nest in the tree. My excitement to see these beautiful animals was growing, as they have long been on my list of subjects to photograph. I contacted my friend, Adam Russell, who is another keen wildlife photographer, and we made our preparations to travel down to Yorkshire from Scotland. 

We travelled down on a Saturday afternoon, and the weather was looking good, so we decided to see what other wildlife was in the area. We searched for hours, looking for Barn Owls or whatever else we could find, but sadly, we didn't have much luck that evening. We stopped off at one location and asked someone, because local knowledge was king. 

A Barn Owl from a previous trip

We asked a chap if he knew of Barn Owls in the area, and he asked us for money right away. The man seemed to think we were professional wildlife filmmakers or something, even though we just tried to explain we were merely wildlife hobbyists looking for owls. He asked us to go buy him some beer and cigarettes and then come back for tea, but we passed at this, as there was something very serial killer-esque about this man. Things just seemed very off with this man, and he was very demanding.

We continued on our way, joking around about the experience we just had. We went on some local walks near some barns and staked out the locations to see if we could hear or see anything, but had no luck. It was getting late, so we pressed on to our hotel for the evening. 

The Big Day

Adam and I met at reception the following morning at 6 am and headed out looking for Barn Owls again on our way to meet Paul. We briefly caught a glimpse of one sitting in the barn window from a distance, so we stayed for around 20 minutes, but it did not come out to hunt. 

We arrived at the meeting point at half past 7 and met with Paul and two other photographers, Karen and Joel. We followed Paul to the location and got settled into our pop-up tent hides. Within two minutes of getting the camera set up, the owls were out in a feeding frenzy that lasted close to an hour. We mostly saw the two parent owls, but we could see two owlets in the tree and one on a stone wall in the distance. Gradually, one of the Owlets became brave enough to fly over to the perches Paul had set up and was fed by the parents. 

We had very variable weather conditions all morning, with a mix of heavy rain, wind, and sunshine, so we had lots of incredible opportunities. The first hour of action passed, and then, we waited around another hour or so before we were treated to another hour of activity. 

Little Owl in the rain

The rush I get from seeing amazing animals in nature is so special, and it is great for my mental well-being. The owls were living in this tiny tree, which you would never expect would house a family of five if you were just walking past it. 

After five or so hours in the hide, we decided that was enough for the day, as the activity died down due to the owls going for a well-deserved sleep. We began our long journey home back to Scotland, thrilled by the morning experience that will live with us forever.

I hope you enjoy some of the images below.

Be sure to share any similar experiences you have had in the comments! 

Greg Sheard's picture

Greg Sheard is a Scottish based photographer, focusing on wildlife, landscape and portrait work. Greg's mission in life is too help those who suffer with mental health issues and be a voice for the millions of people around the world who need that care, attention and awareness.

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Hopefully you get a good opportunity in the future, keep getting yourself out there and it will happen.

Hi Greg...Wonderful article and some great photographs of the Little Owls. A close relative of the Little Owl here in the Western Hemisphere is the Burrowing Owl. I've been photographing them for several years now, and I've included a recent one of an inquisitive Burrowing Owl owlet.


Hey Tom, thank you so much.

That is an excellent shot of the Burrowing Owl, and you can certainly see the similarities between them!

Owls are the best!!!!

Agreed :)

Likewise I love taking photographs of birds…. However sharing information on nest locations is in my opinion is not to be recommended. Especially of a species such as little owls that are in decline. Near where I live it’s been documented by the local warden that photographers had been harassing little owls so much so that they have just cleared off.

According to the law :
“it’s an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb Schedule 1 birds whilst they are nest building, at, on or near an active nest and whilst they have dependent young. ”

It is clear from the images that these young birds were still dependent on their parents. While little owls are an introduced species unlike barn owls that are schedule 1 it could be argued that they should be treated in the same way.

It could also be argued that what the author did should NOT be be encouraged and articles like this that promotes such behaviour should not be published.

Wildlife photographers at all times must act responsibly, I would argue that this article clearly displays behaviour that is irresponsible and that it should NOT be encouraged.

The most important thing is the welfare of the bird and NOT the shot.

This is a very important topic as wildlife photographers have become unpopular in my area with the local wardens because of their intrusive behaviour.

Hi Eric,

I can assure you that these Owls were not disturbed by myself at all. I was in a pop up hide which is set up at the site all year round, far away from the actual nest site (even though they had fledged but still enjoyed being fed, and they also fed themselves) with a 600mm lens, and even then some cropping done after the fact. We also enter and leave the hide when the owls are not around, to ensure we are not disturbing them.

I will always be respectful to wildlife and act responsibly. If I feel uncomfortable or that the situation could be stressful for the animal, I walk away, simple as that.

I appreciate everything you are saying and I do agree with what you are saying, in that the Little Owls should also be a protected species and that wildlife photographers should act responsibly.

Please do not compare me to other photographers who are being intrusive, because if you knew me, you'd know that is far from the truth to the steps I take.

Greg, there is always somebody who thinks their way is the only way. And will comment on a photo or story without any knowledege whatsoever of the “how” behind it or the work of the creator to be responsible. Here in the States we have a columnist for Outdoor Photographer constantly preaching about ethics. The usual translation is, “if I didn’t do it, it was done wrong.” Very nice photos, carry on in a repsonsible manner, and tune the jerks out.

Thank you for your comment Tom, I really appreciate it!