A barn owl chick at Sheepdrove Organic Farm

Barn Owl Ringing at Sheepdrove

A barn owl chick at Sheepdrove Organic Farm

This picture of a barn owl chick was taken on a busy day at Sheepdrove on Friday with accredited BTO bird ringer and owl man Captain Jerry Woodham, ably assisted by Sheepdrove Organic Farm’s Mike Barker, carefully inspecting all the boxes on the farm for signs of breeding.

They ringed two clutches of three owlets at two of our barns; the chicks were between 23 and 44 days old in both cases, of good weights and looking very healthy on what appears to be plenty of available food. Jerry expects them to all fledge successfully over the next few weeks.

They then found later breeding female sitting on 7 eggs so Jerry will return in August to see if hatching has been successful and ring any owlets. This female was ringed last October as an owlet so this is her first attempt at breeding.

A breeding pair of barn owls needs around 1.5 ha of rough grassland habitat so at Sheepdrove we leave uncut long tussocky rough grass on field margins, along tracks, roadside verges and hedgerows all across the farm. Tawny owls prefer open deciduous woodland, but have adapted to live almost anywhere there are trees, including scrub, hedgerows and gardens. They too hunt in areas of prey-rich grassland and benefit from the rough grassland and species rich pasture across our organic farm. Rough grassland is also important to other farmland birds, including grey partridge, quail, skylarks and corn bunting, while invertebrates, reptiles and those wildflowers less commonly found in very closely grazed or annually mown pasture also benefit.

Why are nest boxes needed at all? The availability of suitable nesting cavities has reduced primarily due to loss of large trees with hollows compounded by the modernisation and enclosure of many farm buildings. Nest boxes sited within to suitable foraging habitat of open farmland with hedgerows and field margins of rough grassland where there is small mammal prey such as shrews, voles and mice will help increase breeding success.

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