Barn Owl Information

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General

The barn owl is an elegant looking bird with a distinctive heart shaped face and relatively small black eyes. It has a white breast with golden plumage to the back and head. The only owl that appears white when in flight.

Barn owls are nocturnal but can occasionally be seen in the early morning and late afternoon.

Barn owls do not hoot. Instead they have a variety of calls that sound more like screeches and snoring. Click the link’s below to hear the Barn Owl screeching:

Links to be uploaded soon.

Where it lives

Barn owls need extensive areas of rough un-grazed or lightly grazed tussocky grassland in the form of whole fields or field margins (this is encouraged by government grants available to farmers, DEFRA).This habitat is preferred by their favourite food source, the short-tailed vole. They are not generally found in woodland but will nest on the edges if open fields are nearby.

What it eats

95% of a barn owl diet is small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews. The owl eats its prey whole and disposes of the indigestible bones and fur in a pellet which can often be found below roosting sites.

Barn Owls hunt infrequently within arable or horticultural crops. The owls’ probably avoid such habitats while hunting because the crops do not directly provide suitable conditions for their favoured prey item, the field vole. However, arable landscapes often indirectly provide vole-rich habitats in the form of grassy margins along the edges of fields, woods and ditches. Grassy margins in arable landscapes may also support populations of wood mice that Barn Owls often eat. It is along such grassy margins that Barn Owls have been widely observed to focus their foraging efforts. Occasionally, Barn Owls will hunt over the arable crops themselves but only at a certain time of year. For example, there may be significant populations of wood mice in cereals or sugar beet in the few weeks prior to harvesting and after harvesting they may be easy to catch for a few nights, but for most of the year small mammals are restricted to the field margins or boundary features.

Life-cycle

Barn owls do not build nests but require a level surface on which to lay their eggs, they will create a soft layer beneath the eggs from discarded food pellets. They like to nest in quiet, sheltered holes such as those found in barns, church towers, derelict buildings and sometimes hollow trees.

The approximate timing of a typical nest cycle:

Courtship – can start in February but is mainly in March

Egg laying – first half of April

Incubation – second half of April and 1st half of May

Hatching – second half of May

Young growing in nest – June and first half of July

Fledging – second half of July (at about 10 weeks)

Young keep returning to the nest – first half of August

Dispersal – second half of August to end of November

History – decline and why

The barn owl is the most widely distributed owl in the world but sadly under threat in Britain. The UK population has declined by over 70% in the last 50 years.

To a large extent, Britain’s Barn Owl population has become dependant on the provision and maintenance of nestboxes due to the lack of more natural sites. Nest and roost sites are lost through a wide variety of causes including the general deterioration of traditional farm buildings, unsympathetic barn conversions, and loss of hollow trees due to Dutch Elm disease and the general ˜tidying up’ of the countryside. Church towers are usually netted-off to prevent access by birds and modern farm buildings are generally unsuitable unless a nestbox is provided.

The provision of nestboxes for use by Barn Owls is believed to be one of the most important conservation measures and one of the easiest to implement. Across the UK, a wide range of organisations and individuals have erected well over 25,500 Barn Owl nestboxes.

Law – how it is protected

The barn owl was considered to be very common during the 19th century but has declined to such an extent that it is now a rare bird over much of Britain with some counties, including Greater Manchester, having only a few pairs left. As a result the barn owl is afforded special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 and has as much legal protection as any wild bird can have in Britain. Individual birds, their eggs and young are protected at all times and nesting barn owls are protected against disturbance.

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