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The Barn Owl Trust

Conserving the Barn Owl and its Environment

Watch us on Youtube Follow us on Twitter Join us on Facebook Live Barnowl webcam direct from a barnowl nestbox at our Owl Sanctuary

About the Barn Owl

Summer - rearing young

 
Barn Owl ageing guide

Beautiful Owlets

Once the young are covered in white down and have their characteristic heart-shaped face (c. 5 weeks old), nestling Barn Owls or "owlets" are extremely beautiful and although we've seen many hundreds over the years, close encounters with owlets are still a great pleasure...They are the most wonderful birds to handle, often lying completely still in the hand, "playing dead". The white or cream-coloured fluff that covers them is unbelievably soft and the emerging flight feathers beautifully marked.

 

By early summer the young are usually well grown and most of the nestling deaths associated with food shortage have already occurred. The average brood size is 3.6 but it's not at all uncommon to come across broods of two - especially where food is in short supply due to intensive farming and a lack of suitable prey-rich habitat. Where food is plentiful broods of six or even seven have been seen.

 

Time to play!

Whereas nestling birds of many species do nothing except stay in the nest, beg for food, eat and defecate, nestling Barn Owls 'play' like kittens. From three weeks old they are increasingly mobile and by five weeks they run, jump, pounce, hiss, click their tongues, and move their heads in the most comical manner side to side, round and round, even turning their heads upside down!

 

Calling for food

When hungry they call endlessly for food psh...psh... psh...psh...psh... and even before an adult arrives with food they seem to know it's coming. Hungry nestlings will often stand right on the edge of the nest ledge (or cavity) waiting for a prey delivery and if the whole brood are hungry the volume of their excited calls can be tremendous! Some surprising behaviour has been recorded including nestlings repeatedly feeding each other - passing on food items brought in by the adults rather than eating it themselves!

 
3 owlets in box

Nestling fatality

In this later half of the nestling period (when the owlets are 5-8 weeks old, usually in June-July), it is not uncommon for individual nestlings to accidentally fall from the nest. Sadly, this is often fatal even if they are uninjured. If there are still other young in the nest, individuals on the ground below are usually ignored and starve to death. Interestingly though, if the nest collapses and the entire brood fall to the floor, the adults will generally continue feeding them in their new position. In a deep and spacious nest cavity these accidental deaths are most unlikely to occur.

 

Fledging

By nine weeks old most young have already made their first flights and by ten weeks they are able to fly quite well. Once outside, their "play-hunting" continues: pouncing on anything that moves especially leaves and each other. The earliest recorded prey capture was at 72 days old and by the owlets twelfth week they are getting much less food from the adults. During the day, recently fledged owlets usually roost within the nest site but during fine weather they sometimes try roosting in nearby trees. Presumably, once they've got wet a few times they soon learn the advantage of dry roost sites. Dispersal normally starts at 11-12 weeks old and by 14 weeks almost all owlets have left their parents' home range. There is some evidence that lingering young are chased away by the adults (particularly by the female) but records also exist of young being tolerated for several months.

 

Double brooding

About 10% of pairs will breed twice in one year and records even exist of triple-brooding, although this is very rare indeed. Second clutches are normally laid in July, sometimes in the same nest cavity and sometimes before the first brood has left! However most second clutches are laid in an alternative nest place at the same site or nearby.

 

The approximate timing of a typical nest cycle:

Courtship - can start in February but is mainly in March

Egg laying - first half of April

Incubation - second half of April and 1st half of May

Hatching - second half of May

Young growing in nest - June and first half of July

Fledging - second half of July

Young keep returning to the nest - first half of August

Dispersal - second half of August to end of November

 

 
 
 
The Barn Owl Trust is dedicated to conservation & education and does not operate a visitor centre.
Barn Owl Trust staff and volunteers
Waterleat, Ashburton, Devon TQ13 7HU
+44 (0) 1364 653026
info@barnowltrust.org.uk