Conservation: Britain’s Barn Owl Boom

Barn Owls Breeding Pairs Rise Summer Winter Spring 2014 2013 British Countryside Ornithology Twitchers Bird Watching | Conservation Wildlife Trusts Organisations Habitats Loss Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Royal Society Protection Of Birds | Fur Feather & Fin Country Sports & Pursuits Lifestyle GiftsBritain’s barn owls have bounced back in spectacular fashion following four consecutive years where freak weather has threatened the species’ future.

A series of long winters, cold springs and wet summers between 2009 and 2013 put the majestic birds futures in Britain in doubt, with ornithologists branding 2013 the “worst year ever” for the birds.

2013 marked the fourth consecutive year of poor weather conditions, which contributed to a decline in the numbers of the animals in the wild. It was thought that by the end of 2013 fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of barn owls remained in England. That figure marked a decline of 75 per cent in the birds’ population, with conservationists estimating Britain should be home to 4,000 breeding pairs each year.

These dramatic statistics marked a new low, with fears having grown for many years about the decline of the species. The birds were commonplace on farms across England in the early 20th century, but by the early 1980s the number of barn owls had dropped by around 70 per cent.

In 2013 Barn Owl Trust conservationist David Ramsden said he was concerned the birds had changed status, “from scarce to rare”. He said: “The scale of the decline is dramatic and frightening.

“The weather these past four years has been devastating for barn owls and we’re seriously worried about their futures.”

Happily David’s fears barn owls could disappear from the British countryside haven’t come to fruition and the declining trend has been reversed — in emphatic style.

David and all the staff at the Trust have been delighted to see British barn owl pairs fledge nearly 50 per cent more youngsters per brood than usual in 2014.

Barn Owls Breeding Pairs Rise Summer Winter Spring 2014 2013 British Countryside Ornithology Twitchers Bird Watching | Conservation Wildlife Trusts Organisations Habitats Loss Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Royal Society Protection Of Birds | Fur Feather & Fin Country Sports & Pursuits Lifestyle GiftsFollowing these lean years, many barn owls made the most of the 2014 breeding season, with many raising big first broods. A third of breeding pairs also nested a second time in one season, with many experts putting this down to the high numbers of both voles and mice which were seen over the past summer.

The high food supplies meant barn owls were able to produce as many as 10 youngsters over the course of an extended breeding season, which started as early as February and endured well into October. Despite the fact some wet autumn weather saw some late brood losses, 2014 was a bumper year for the species.

One story, from Powys in Wales, demonstrates how the excellent weather helped barn owls enjoy a fantastic 2014. Volunteer ringers in the county found one female sitting on clutches of eggs in different locations on 12 June and 21 July, having abandoned her first clutch before laying the second. Normally this would mean the first clutch wouldn’t hatch, but the abandoned male managed to raise four youngsters from the first brood, while the mother raised five chicks from her second brood. This meant the young female barn owl produced nine chicks in her first breeding season, making an enormous difference to the local barn owl population.

While high food supplies helped the barn owl population conservation efforts by humans also played a part in the boom. Many farmers and landowners have provided nesting boxes and managed rough grassland in a way which provides a habitat for barn owl prey.

The 2014 boom means Barn Owl Trust staff are optimistic about the population ahead of the 2015 breeding season, which should be underway shortly, weather permitting. Although vole numbers tend to be cyclical — which means there is likely to be less food around this year — it’s hoped that a warm 2015 will help swell the native barn owl population still further.

If you hope to see one of the increased number of UK barn owls flitting about the night sky this year you’ll have a better chance using our shooting binoculars and scopesBarn Owls Breeding Pairs Rise Summer Winter Spring 2014 2013 British Countryside Ornithology Twitchers Bird Watching | Conservation Wildlife Trusts Organisations Habitats Loss Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Royal Society Protection Of Birds | Fur Feather & Fin Country Sports & Pursuits Lifestyle Gifts

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