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On winter mornings, a loud screeching wakes us up. Could it be an owl?

Sent in by Hilary Wingfield, Aylesbury, Bucks.

Of the owl species that can turn up in the UK, there are five that you are likely to encounter. Whilst some are distinctly nocturnal (mostly active at night), others are active during the day ('diurnal'). Some are 'crepuscular' - which means active around dawn and dusk.

The loud screeching suggests that you are lucky enough to have a barn owl nearby. In parts of the UK, the barn owl has local names such as the screech owl, screecher and hissing owl.

This can be quite a haunting sound to come across; no doubt countless ghost stories have come from encounters with this strange noise and seeing a ghostly white shape as the bird silently drifts over fields in low light!

Barn owls do hunt through the night but are also active at dawn and dusk, particularly if food is hard to come by (for example during short winter days) or when they need to find extra food to feed hungry chicks.

The short-eared owl is a bird of open country; grassland, moors, marshes and sand dunes are just some of the habitats where you may encounter this stunning bird. They are actually rather silent birds most of the time. They regularly hunt through the day but dusk is the best time to spot them.

The little owl is another with a tendency to hunt at dusk and dawn but not exclusively. They are quite vocal birds with a wide range of calls, sometimes sounding similar to the yelps of a small dog. The tawny owl, the most common in the UK, and the long-eared owl, a seldom seen species, are both mostly nocturnal.

If you hear an owl calling that resembles the familiar 'too-wit-to-woo' then you are hearing a pair of tawny owls!

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