11 January 2011

Barn Owls and severe weather

As we have already reported, the recent unusually severe winter weather, with record low temperatures in December, has increased the numbers of reports of dead ringed birds (recoveries). Particularly badly hit has been Barn Owl. In recent winters we have typically received 30-40 dead Barn Owl reports in December, but in 2010 the December total topped 100. Reports of dead ringed Barn Owls are continuing to arrive at BTO HQ and this January’s total may reach the record of 81 birds that was set last January during another unusually severe winter.

Snow cover makes it especially difficult for Barn Owls to find the small mammals on which they prey. As such, they are more vulnerable during periods of prolonged snow than many other species. This winter there have been many reports of Barn Owls out hunting during the day--even in such odd places as supermarket car parks--and this is presumably because they have not been able to find enough food elsewhere. Preliminary results from the Nest Record Scheme for the 2010 breeding season suggest that Barn Owl productivity was unusually low, despite good weather for much of the summer. Part of the reason for this may be that those adults which did survive the cold winter of 2009/10 were nevertheless in poor condition at the start of the breeding season. It will be interesting to see whether something like this is repeated in 2011, and how many Barn Owls breed and manage to fledge young.


  1. In these circumstances would barn owls take day old chicks if they were placed in the nest box?

  2. Its truly distressing to read that so many of our lovely barn owls are dying brcause of the extreme weather. On a good note, a barn owl I hadn't seen for months and months suddenly showed up a coule of weeks ago, after the snow. Of course, since then we've had all the wet weather!

  3. I would imagine there must be regional variations. Is that information available anywhere? We had a good summer in Sussex until late July, when first broods had fledged. Though the subsequent wet weather wouldn't have helped, they would have been better off than up north where starvation of dependant young was widely reported.

    Purely anecdotal - but the broods I had information of down here were usually 3+. Our local pair produced five, and even with the loss of the adult female early on, the five all left the nest due to the male's hunting prowess and abundance of prey. Truly amazing to watch him almost constantly bringing voles, mice and even what looked like a young (headless!) pheasant back to the nest.