29 July 2013

Spring weather bad news for Barn Owls

Over the summer we've been hearing some pretty depressing stories of how badly Barn Owls seem to be doing this year. The poor spring weather appears to have been bad for small rodents, the staple diet of most Barn Owls. Birds in poor condition may choose to skip breeding for the year and others starting breeding may abandon attempts part way through due to lack of food.

Food shortages can severely limit breeding performance
(Jill Pakenham)

Below are a few extracts from emails and Forum posts we've received, giving a flavour of the season from around the country.

Lincolnshire (Alan Ball and Bob Sheppard)

"Only about 60 pairs have been found breeding so far, where we would have normally expected around 200 pairs by now. Only 55 chicks have been ringed compared with 160 by this time last year. Several pairs are just starting to nest, so there's hope that things may improve, though birds remain absent from many traditional sites

Kestrels are also down with nearly 150 chicks ringed against nearly 200 last year. Tawny Owl chicks numbered only a third of last years numbers, but Little Owl site occupancy was good with our best year ever of 70 pairs."

North West Norfolk (Phil Littler and John Middleton)

"I've just got in from checking 30+ boxes, and have got just three on eggs. Three sites had dead owls in or under the boxes, and just five sites held any Owls at all. A thoroughly depressing day. I thought it would be bad when my Tawny Owl totals showed a 75% drop on last year, but not as bad as this."

"Well now I have checked over 200 sites and only 34 pairs are breeding, 14 sites have pairs that are not yet breeding and 25 sites had single adults. So far I have only ringed 34 chicks although I do have to re visit 16 sites because chicks were too small or the female was incubating eggs. I still have a number of sites still to check but don’t expect it will get better. Can’t see the Group this year ringing anything like the 391 chicks we ringed in 2012!"

Wiltshire (Alison Rymell)

"I checked 11 boxes in the Deverill Valley in mid-June: none had either eggs or young. Only one had a pair of owls and one had a single owl. Another had a dead owl [long dead]. Four had Stock Doves, three with eggs. Of the 11 boxes, six normally have successful broods. Last year four of the six lost their first broods, three laid a second clutch and reared the young successfully."

Cornwall (Mark Grantham)

"We still haven't done all our boxes, but so far the season seems to be 5-6 weeks later than previous years:
  • 7 sites occupied last year but not this year (and one unoccupied for the first time in 17 years!)
  • 3 sites occupied but not breeding
  • 6 sites with chicks, but all small broods
  • 3 failed at the egg stage
  • 7 not occupied this year or last year
  • 2 sites occupied but outcome still unknown"
One of the non-breeding pairs from a Cornish nest box (Mark Grantham)

1 comment:

  1. There has been some improvement in Lincolnshire over the past few weeks and Bob and I have now got 130 breeding pairs.