Thursday, 2 December 2010

Barn Owl Bother

You wait weeks for a blog update then two come along at once!

I paid a visit to the Barn Owl farm this afternoon. With the amount of lying snow, it's more likely that the Barn Owl (and possibly Tawny's) will be seen during daylight hours. They may even resort to taking small birds as voles and mice will be inactive and hard to find under the snow. After walking around the fields for a couple of hours, the only evident raptor was a Merlin (which was a pleasant surprise!). One interesting point to note was a nest box I've not seen before - in the trees, at the back of the field with the box I already knew about. I have one serious reservation about the placement of the box: to access it any Owl would need to get past some Power Lines - a hazard known to cause many Owl deaths. It's also unlikely to be chosen as a nesting site as there isn't a clear run into the box. Even more concerning to me was the lack of any apparent disturbance to the snow that has built up at the entrance to the two boxes over the past two days. Now maybe our Barn Owl prefers to roost away from the nest box when he doesn't have a mate in it (as appeared the case in the summer, once the Owlets approached a state of readiness to leave) - I don't know enough about his habits to verify this. But logic suggests that in conditions such as this, the nest box would be an ideal refuge. There was also very little disturbance to snow on fence posts in his usual hunting spots or on nearby ground. He will be doing the majority of his hunting from posts to save energy, so that's also worried me slightly.

Of course, my concern may be unfounded. We know what a prolific hunter he is from earlier in the year, so his prowess around the fields that usually teem with voles could mean he isn't needing to hunt for long during the day. In fact if I did spot a Barn Owl my first thought would be to establish if it were a new female - those first year birds are going to be struggling to find territory and sustain themselves, especially with such an early onslaught of cold. So any incoming young female could well be more visible than our established male.

In general, I do fear for the Barn Owl population given the sustained cold and deep snow cover all over the country. Elsewhere the situation will be even worse - a lot of broods were late and small due to prolonged rain during June in the North and West of the country. We may be counting on our Southern birds to maintain the population, I just hope enough of them can last the winter - or numbers may be decimated.


  1. Interesting thoughts Chris. I do know about the box. Thought was given about its position before it was put up.The owls often roosted there and did not seem to be worried about the power lines. It was always a possibility that local knowledge of the owls could lead to disturbance and another box should be placed nearby as an alternative. I have observed them many times in that corner hunting with no problems.