Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee
A couple of weeks ago I headed out with local bird expert Wilf Norman to meet some Barn owl chicks….
Wilf and his close team have been monitoring Barn owls nests for several years. Over the years several nest boxes have been installed and many are used by Barn owls on a regular basis.
The target of our visit was a couple of nest boxes not far from the coast which Wilf had been monitoring, and the aim was to put British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) rings on the young chicks.
Bird ringing is carried out by BTO ringers who have a ringing permit as well as a nest inspection licence (wild Barn owl nest inspections are illegal except under license). This is to ensure that the birds are handled correctly to limit stress caused to the chicks or the parent birds.
The first nest box we went to was occupied by a large family with 6 Barn owls chicks. Two chicks were quite mature, with adult feathers already coming through. The smallest chick was much smaller in comparison, but still big enough to put on a BTO ring.
Another farm we visited has previously had a Barn owl nesting in hay bales, so the farmer set up his own Barn owl box and the following year the female moved straight in and raised 4 chicks. This year she only had 2 chicks but they were very healthy and a really good size. It was so great to see them up close!
Bird ringing is a really good way to identify birds in the future by the unique code on the metal split rings. Often ringing records are sent into the BTO if someone has come across a casualty or dead bird. This information is incredibly useful for the study of the ecology of barn owls, to understand more about populations and to ultimately guide conservation efforts.
Please let us know if you think you have Barns owls nesting on your land, or if you’re lucky enough to see a Barn owl.
Update on Barn owls and treacherous water troughs – see previous post The Barn Owl Trust recommend using a DIY float rather than a plank to give tired owls a chance of survival if they end up in a trough – and they have a specific leaflet which includes how to make such a simple float.