Barn owl project

OwletsThe Barn Owl is one of Britain's most well-known and charismatic birds. However, in recent decades its numbers have suffered significant declines due largely to the loss of hunting habitats (rough, tussocky grassland which support thriving populations of small mammals such as the field vole, the staple diet of the barn owl) and suitable nesting sites (old barns, hollow trees, etc.).

Difficulties can occur even when good feeding habitats remain because these have become isolated from suitable nest sites.

There is a limit to the range that adult Barn Owls can cover from their nest base in search of food. Unbroken expanses of cereal or intensively managed grassland are major barriers, as are busy roads which sadly claim significant annual casualties.

For a number of years the Wychwood Project has supported local efforts to conserve Barn Owls which aim to:

  • identify potential sites where artificial nesting boxes are needed closer to suitable foraging areas
  • make landowners aware of management techniques that enhance habitats as owl feeding areas
  • provide participative opportunities (including monitoring work) for a better understanding of the owl's life history and habits.

The project enables Wychwood Project  members to become practically involved, understand more about the subject under guidance and supervision from experts and then apply this knowledge more widely for the benefit of the local environment.

Education and awareness

Talks are given to give a greater understanding of the requirements of these fascinating birds.

The barn owl project has met an increasing demand to give talks to a wide range of local organizations.  In addition, individual site visits have been undertaken to advise on barn owl nest box possibilities.  It has been most encouraging to observe the interest and enthusiasm that develops with a greater understanding of the requirements of these fascinating birds.

Monitoring

Information about owl monitoring and the National Recording Scheme.

All the sites where nest boxes have been erected are regularly monitored for occupation, breeding success and need for maintenance and cleaning out. Young owlets are ringed as part of a National Recording Scheme. All activities involving handling of the owlets and examination of the nest site are carried out by a person with the appropriate Licence to do so, since Barn Owls are a Protected Species. The information so gained provides relevant local data for adding to that gained from other areas.

Land management

Barn owls rely very heavily on the short-tailed field vole as their main source of food. These small mammals require areas of tufted (matted) extensively managed grass to be successful. The availability of financial incentives to enable arable farmers to install grass margins around their cropped fields has significantly increased the area of suitable vole habitat.

A 6m margin around an arable field providing a very useful hunting location for barn owls.

Provision of nest boxes

Dutch Elm disease, the felling of many hollow trees for safety reasons, and severe gales have severely reduced the number of 'natural' nesting opportunities for Barn Owls who like cavity sites.  Young and healthy trees rarely offer that facility and so the erection, by the Friends of Wychwood, of waterproof artificial boxes near potential feeding areas can be of enormous benefit.

For indoor situations, e.g. barns, it has been possible to utilize old tea chests (several kindly supplied by the Purveyors of Yorkshire Tea).  These have been suitably adapted for the purpose and fixed in place in the darker roof spaces. They make ideal indoor nesting sites in situations that would otherwise not be owl friendly.

 

A late-hatched brood of 5 young barn owls (the 5th was in the nest box at the time!) at a site in W. Oxfordshire in September 2013, waiting expectantly for food to be brought in to them.  Each would need at least 3 field voles or mice per day, so their parents will be hoping that it would not be too long before the young can hunt for themselves!!