Long Distance Barn Owl
We were sad to learn that a Barn Owl born and ringed at Watatunga last year has been found dead, the victim of a road traffic accident. However, what was extremely unusual is that it was discovered near Doncaster, almost 150km away from its birth place.
Barn Owls are highly sedentary, meaning they rarely go far from their natal site, so this sort of long distance movement is rarely seen. The fact that we were made aware of the death is a testament to the importance of bird ringing. Information from sightings and discoveries can teach us a lot about the movement, habits, longevity and populations of birds, enabling conservationists and bodies such as the RSPB and BTO to keep comprehensive records and monitor species’ status.
There are estimated to be only around 4,000 breeding pairs of Barn Owl in the UK, mostly concentrated in East Anglia, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Barn Owls do not fare well in cold weather so are rarely seen further north.
The Barn Owl is a cavity nester, favouring large cavities within mature hedgerow trees or the ledges found in old agricultural buildings. The species has adapted well to nest boxes such as those we have across Watatunga (and where this chick hatched), and it is likely that a significant proportion of the breeding population – probably well in excess of 25% – now uses them for breeding.
Incubation begins with the first egg and, since consecutive eggs are laid at intervals of around 2 days, the resulting brood of chicks can vary in age by as much as two weeks. This strategy increases the chances of at least some chicks surviving if prey availability is low during the chick rearing period; the oldest and largest chicks will receive food first, at the expense of the last to hatch.
We are delighted that Barn Owl are currently occupying one nest box here at the moment and we look forward to monitoring their progress this breeding season and beyond; and ringing will be a vital tool to be able to do so.