Do Norfolk Owls have Fishy Habits?


Barn owl, wikimedia commons Peter K Burian copyright to attribution
Barn Owl. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Peter K. Burian

This morning, when I was cycling to church with the first red streaks of dawn just emerging over the horizon, there was a splash to my right.  Then a bird flew over the road close in front of me, carrying what looked like a fish under its body in its talons, held with its streamlining facing forwards, in much the way ospreys tend to*. 

It was undoubtedly an owl.

Barn owls, in this area, do often hunt along the watercourses by day, a curious pattern, which I’ve tended to put down to the presence of rodents on the banks.  And I cannot be certain either of the species of owl (I see more barn owls, but hear more tawny owls) or that I was not mistaken in supposing its prey to be a fish.  However, I recognised – and was surprised by – the fish, before I looked at the bird, and there is a river in the locality: it is perfectly possible, particularly given the splash.

I am intrigued.  Has anyone else noticed or found evidence of similar behaviour in British owls?

Cherry Foster


*In David Attenborough’s “Life of Birds” a fishing osprey is featured in the second episode, “The Mastery of Flight,” carrying a fish in just that way apparently to reduce drag.