Barn Owl

Barn Owls at Sheepdrove

Some pictures from a busy day earlier in the month with accredited BTO bird ringer and owl man Captain Jerry Woodham, ably assisted by Sheepdrove Organic Farm’s Mike Barker, checking the owl boxes for condition and clearing out those that had become full of droppings or been taken over by other unwanted guests!

Most of the boxes were in good condition with the exception of one that was already leaning at a slanted angle this time last year – although this hasn’t stopped Barn Owls nesting and rearing young there – but it is now definitely in need of replacement.

They discovered a large female Tawny Owl roosting in one of the boxes; she was ring so that she is now in the BTO database. Tawny Owls will be laying their eggs soon.

At the end of the day, having seen no sign of any Barn Owls, they found two roosting together in a nest box.  One was a male bird that they ringed last year just a short distance away.

Jerry will be back on site as soon as the weather dries out somewhat to check the four remaining but more inaccessible boxes that it were too perilous to reach in these slippery conditions.

These annual inspections are crucial – it’s not enough just to put up boxes. Boxes require cleaning out, repairing, and inspecting for recent signs of use; boxes may be full of either jackdaw nests, squirrel dreys or  filled up to a level where getting chicks out to ring them later is difficult and so need clearing to a more manageable level to allow access by the inspection door.

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.

A breeding pair of barn owls needs around 1.5 ha of rough grassland habitat so 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 species of birds, including kestrels and skylarks and reptiles and wildflowers less commonly found in very closely grazed or annually mown pasture also benefit.

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