News Bytes – February 2024

These news bytes have appeared on our social media sites, FacebookX, formerly known as Twitter and Instagram during the month and have been pulled together here.

We ran a competition to win a book!

The winner was notified on 29th February, we hope they really enjoy Alfie & Me, by Carl Safina.

   1 alfie

At the end of January we joined forces with Devon Wildlife Trust (Avon Valley project) and Devon Harvest Mouse project to provide a Predator-Prey workshop for local landowners in the Avon Valley.

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We spoke about Barn Owl biology and ecology with an emphasis on their main prey species (Field Voles) and ideal foraging habitat (rough tussocky grassland). We conducted some owl pellet dissection and heard more about Harvest Mice ecology – a species which also depends on rough tussocky grassland. The workshop ended with a search for Harvest Mice nests and Field Vole burrows in the surrounding fields.

Did you know that Barn Owls make eerie screeching and hissing noises? You can listen to one here.  If you hear an owl hooting (twit-twoo) amongst trees, it is likely to be a Tawny Owl.

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While putting up an indoor Barn Owl nestbox recently in a brand new barn, conservation staff noticed what seemed to be fresh Little Owl pellets dotted along an internal wall They returned a few weeks later and installed this Little Owl nestbox, complete with a modified exercise platform.

Little Owls’ range appears to be ‘contracting Eastwards’, meaning their numbers are declining in the South-West, so finds like this are very encouraging  Their pellets are small and grey (similar to Kestrels) and often contain lots of invertebrate wing cases (see photo).

Click here for information about Little Owls.

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Our conservation team have been busy this Winter visiting sites across Devon to clear out Barn Owl nestboxes. This particular box was full of years of compacted pellets. It was difficult to access via the lid due to deterioration of the building, so the team decided to cut a new ‘inspection hatch’ at the front. Here’s what was revealed behind! This was subsequently cleared and the new panel screwed back into place, ready for future inspections.

Winter (ideally December/January) is generally the best time to clear out nestboxes full of debris, as it is the least likely time that the box will be occupied and, therefore, disturb the birds. However, please bear in mind that nesting Barn Owls are legally protected and have been known to nest in every month of the year so if you find them in the nestbox, please leave them be.

This is our advice on clearing out Barn Owl nest spaces.

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We’ve recently taken on some more owls here at the Trust from another rehabilitator who is winding down their operations. These are wild birds that cannot be released as they aren’t proficient flyers or have reduced eyesight, often due to injury.

One Barn Owl, in particular, caught our eye: the aptly named “Domino”. The conservation team were taken aback by the definition of her beautiful dark spots and the colour of her silvery back. How gorgeous is she?

Domino isn’t available for adoption, but most of our other owls are, click here for more info!

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We shared a post from The Climate Coalition for Valentine’s Day – We all have something we love enough to turn our fears into hopeful action. We all have a way we #ShowTheLove.

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80-90% of Barn Owls in the UK contain rat poison so this is important.

What follows is a Press Release issued today by CRRU The Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use:

CHANGES FOR FARMERS, GAMEKEEPERS, AND PEST CONTROL BUSINESSES IN NEW RODENTICIDE STEWARDSHIP REPORT

In readiness for all anticoagulant rodenticide purchases being restricted July onwards to their use inside and around buildings only, the latest UK Rodenticide Stewardship annual report includes for the first time an explanation specific to rodent pest control of what constitutes a ‘building’.

Summarised from guidance in the report, this means a permanent enclosed structure with foundations, constructed from wood, brick, concrete or metal that provides protection from the elements and minimises access by non-target species that might otherwise consume rodenticide baits placed inside. Temporary or easily moved structures are not generally considered to be buildings.

From 4 July specifically, none of the five second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) are allowed to be bought for use in open areas or waste dumps. The five active ingredients – brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, difethiolone and flocoumafen – are sold under numerous brand names. Announced in June 2023, this restriction is designed to strengthen rodenticide stewardship and lead to reducing SGAR contamination in barns owls, the sentinel species for non-target wildlife.

Ongoing scrutiny also covers something of which the operator is acutely aware that there have been no reductions in any of the key environmental criteria. Four additional working groups, each containing government and CRRU representatives, have been set up to review rodenticide sales data, residues in wildlife, application of best practice and anticoagulant resistance.

Another major change covered by the report is that from January 2026, all buyers and users of professional rodenticide products must hold an approved training certificate and, if this is more than five years old, membership of a stewardship-specific Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme. For the first time, this means farmers, gamekeepers and pest control technicians will have to be equally qualified.

Among results identified by the report, stewardship’s training function has now issued 41,000 qualification certificates to pest control technicians, gamekeepers and farmers. In the past year alone, downloads of CPD materials have increased by 40% to 29,000 items, and a video produced with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, for example, had 15,000 viewings.

Point-of-sale audits of 661 premises found 1% failures, 17% qualified passes with only minor corrections, and 83% outright passes. Over the past three years, 37% of farmers report attending stewardship training or seminars, up from 24% when last assessed in 2020. Farmer awareness of CRRU increased markedly from 20% in 2020 to 74% last year, on a par with gamekeepers (75%) and closing on pest control technicians (93%).

The report is available at thinkwildlife.org/downloads.

10 rat poison redacted

 

This week, Assistant Conservation Officers, Kate and Tim, ventured out in the wet weather to install two outdoor Barn Owl tree boxes. They positioned them overlooking some newly planted trees (planted by the Devon Wildlife Trust). Kate and Tim returned to the office wet to the skin but chuffed with the new boxes!  The nestbox shelf was added after second photo was taken.

The nature of new tree plantations means that grass around the whips is often left to become thick and tussocky, ideal foraging habitat for Barn Owls. This will remain suitable habitat for perhaps 7 – 10 years, at which point the trees will become too large and obscure visibility to the box, but there is a plan to have permanent built-in Barn Owl provision available before then

Want to put up a Barn Owl nestbox but you’re not sure what type or where would be best?

Click here for more info!

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The Barn Owl breeding cycle  often starts in late winter and by early spring pairs are usually spending much of their time at their intended nest place. Most pairs engage in mutual preening and cheek rubbing as part of courtship and pair-bonding.

The female does progressively less and less hunting, as the male brings food to her. Her weight increases from around 350g to 425g when she comes into what’s called “breeding condition”.

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We’re hiring!  Find out the full details of both job vacancies, including how to apply here

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A rehab success story!

Last Autumn, we got a call from a team at a country park in Southeast England. They had found a fallen owlet at the base of one of their large Sweet Chestnut trees. It was in a bad way so, together with the help of a local owl carer and BOT guidance, the bird was rehabilitated and fed back up to a good weight. It was then put in a make-shift mobile aviary back on site, which was an old pheasant rearing pen with a few added branches to act as perches and a box for the owl to hide away in. The Barn Owl was supplementary fed for a few weeks in the enclosure, then an access hole (previously blocked off) was opened. This allowed the Barn Owl to come and go as it pleased and learn to fend for itself, which it did within a few weeks.

We received an update from the team this week to let us know that ‘their’ Barn Owl, although fully independent, still comes back to the safety of its box in the old pheasant rearing barn and is seen by the team at the park most days! A successful ‘soft release’!

For information on what to do if you find an injured owl click here.

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