This species is a part of the larger grouping of owls known as typical owls, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the barn owls, Tytonidae.
This is a medium-sized earless owl. It is capable of killing prey such as brown rats. It is largely nocturnal and very sedentary.
It is found in deciduous and mixed forests and usually nests in holes in trees. Smaller woodland owls such as the Little Owl and the Long-eared Owl cannot usually co-exist with the stronger Tawny, and are found in different habitats. However, in Ireland, where there are no Tawnies, the Long-eared Owl is found in all suitable woodland.
This species has a strong direct flight. It occurs in two colour phases, brown and grey.
This species probably injures more people than any other European bird. It is fearless in defence of its nest and young, and strikes for the intruders face with its sharp talons. Since its flight is silent, at night in particular it may not be detected until too late.
The call of the Tawny Owl is the tu-whit tu-whoo immortalised by William Shakespeare.