Bumper number of chicks sparks hope of barn owl recovery - Ulster Wildlife

Conservationists are feeling hopeful after one of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable farmland birds saw a bumper number of barn owl chicks and breeding pairs last year.

Barn owl at Ballycruttle Farm (c) Ballycruttle Farm
Barn owl at Ballycruttle Farm (c) Ballycruttle Farm

24 barn owl chicks fledged from 8 known breeding pairs – a 500% increase in chicks from 2021 – according to Ulster Wildlife, which has just published its 2022 barn owl report.

Two new nest sites were also discovered in Co Down helping to boost the bird’s fragile population, which is estimated to be less than 30 breeding pairs.

Barn owls were hit badly in 2021, as the wet spring and hot summer resulted in a poor breeding season.

“After a troubled 2021, we are delighted to see the fortunes of barns owl changing and their numbers doing well. Every time we think the population is increasing, we lose some of our breeding pairs so this year's news is very positive,” said Katy Bell, Senior Conservation Officer, at Ulster Wildlife. “Barn owls need a number of things to survive: plenty of wildlife-friendly habitat on farms with enough small mammals to eat, places to nest and roost, as well as climatic stability. All of these factors play a part in their success and a big part of our work to help this species recover is advising landowners and farmers on habitat improvements and putting up artificial nest boxes. It is great to see this paying dividend in 2022, providing a welcome boost for our small and struggling barn owl population.”

Barn owls require areas of rough grassland, wild field margins, and wild bird cover in order to hunt for small mammals, like mice and rats, that take refuge there. Last year, the charity carried out 34 landowner visits to advise on ideal barn owl habitat and erected 20 man-made nest boxes in suitable locations to replace the loss of natural nesting sites in barns, old buildings and tree cavities.

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Posted On: 01/03/2023

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