Barn Owl session

I recently led a special wildlife session for staff at Sheepdrove Organic Farm, inviting them to watch me checking an owl nestbox. I knew of a Barn Owl family on the farm that we could visit, but kept the exact location a surprise.

At the farm I’m the Manager for Biodiversity and Alternative Energy, and often do things like this. Educational tours, guided walks, etc. Last week I took a tour of our restored grassland for the Berks Bucks and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)

Click on a picture…

I hold a license to do the monitoring, because Barn Owls and their breeding sites are protected by law. I’m also a trained ringer for Barn Owl, so I can handle the birds and fit them with with a metal leg-ring from the British Trust for Ornithology which carries a unique number. This means we will know where the bird came from if we find it again – or if another ringer finds it somewhere else.

At a quiet barn we all gathered while I went up a ladder to the box. One by one I carefully put the chicks into my owl bag and brought them down. There were 4 fluffy owlets and everyone was really pleased to see them!

For the farm staff this was a rare glimpse of these owls up close. But I have a duty to protect the owlets during this disturbance and their welfare comes before the ‘experience’. I keep them safely in a bag, and they like the dark seclusion. However, to the amazement of my colleagues, very soon after being woken the chicks soon started to doze off again as I worked to ring, measure and weigh each one. 

The youngest two were fluffy and not as beautiful as an adult bird. They had long, hawkish faces and were covered in rather untidy down feathers, although you could see colourful plumage growing through the white down. The eldest were full size and almost rid of their down feathers, as their adult plumage developed. Now they were quickly growing their flight feathers, and had the handsome faces you’d expect of a proper Barn Owl.

Our 4 owlets were put back into the nestbox, safe and sound. I explained to everyone that Short-tailed Vole was the most important prey item (on mainland UK) and the chicks would probably each be eating 4 voles per night. The parents had to find food for the owlets, and for themselves.

At Sheepdrove Organic Farm there are many miles of linked rough grass areas, and other linear habitat such as hedges and bird feed strips. Along with the new tree plantations, this habitat is what has brought the barn owls back to the farm. Dozens of nestboxes are installed around the farm too, because there is always competition for nest sites from other birds.

See a video from our owl visit on my page about Barn Owls at Sheepdrove.

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