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.