After a great start to the breeding season here in the South West our hopes for a bumper Barn Owl year have been knocked back yet again thanks to our unpredictable British weather. It has been 15 years since we’ve had a really good year for the birds in this part of the country (1997) and the balmy March weather that led us, and the birds, to think that this year would be good has been replaced with unseasonable wind and rain.
Our annual monitoring visits are providing very mixed results with sites visited before the storms of last weekend having broods of up to seven owlets. The owls at our nestcam site hatched five owlets this year but two have now succumbed to food shortages as the weather prevented the adults from providing enough food for their family.
Some adult Barn Owls seem to be coping with the weather conditions. We surmise that if the habitat close to the nest site provides a really good food supply then the birds can stock pile food for their young, or pop out during any clear periods to hunt. Birds that need to forage further from the nest site for food are at a distinct disadvantage.
Three sites visited on the same day all with four owlets in the nestbox appear to bears this out. Site one – arable but with some rough grassland nearby – owlets – alive but thin. Site two – adjacent to field of rough grassland – owlets in good condition. Site three – surrounded by arable fields, few hedgerows – owlets dead in box.
With another band of wind and rain predicted for the South West this weekend we hope that the adult birds can get out and find enough food for their young to fledge. The best long-term hope for the species given our record breaking British weather is that landowners, who are lucky enough to have the birds around, will ensure there is some really good habitat close to their nest sites to help the owls through the difficult times.