Barn Owls

September 2013

956aimg_2268The Lune Rivers Trust has erected several barn owl boxes in barns around the Lune catchment.  They are near sites where we have done habitat improvement work.  An exciting talk and site visit from the World Owl Trust to our members inspired us to start this project several years ago.

The Lune valley and surrounding farmland provide the perfect habitat for barn owls.  They hunt along rough grassland, hedgerows and railway tracks.  Barn owls are free and environmentally friendly rodent catchers which rid farms and farmyards of unwanted rodents and pests.  Rats and mice form part of their diet in addition to voles and shrews.  Owl populations benefit from the establishment of hay meadows and long rough grass and wild flower patches left on field verges which contain their favourite food, field voles.

We are grateful to our chairman Mick Jackson who donates his time to construct barn owl boxes for the Trust.  Here is the short story of one such box ….

In 2011 a local farmer told us he had seen a barn owl and gave us permission to put a box in one of his barns.  We found barn owl pellets on the floor, a sure sign that the barn was being used by a barn owl.  We put the box in the darkest corner of the barn ensuring it was structurally strong enough to support a large owl family.  Three handfuls of untreated sawdust and a small pile of owl pellets inside the box completed the job, forming the ‘nest’ on which the female lays her eggs.  Within a week the farmer telephoned to say there were two barn owls sitting in the barn!

Barn owls cannot hunt in wet weather and we feared for the chicks through last year’s terrible weather conditions.  However, they can hunt at night and can locate food in near pitch dark, so any barn with old wood and piles of straw where rodents live is a help to barn owls.

In early July we were very pleased to find two healthy barn owl chicks approximately 8 weeks old in the box and these were successfully ringed by Terry Pickford who, in 1967, helped establish the North West Raptor Group – Britain’s first raptor study and protection group.

The photograph above shows the same two beautiful chicks a month later about to fledge.

The two young owlets will now be looking for a home in the Lune valley.  Although we have been erecting purpose built owl boxes, we have also seen barn owls raised in old tea chests and packing crates put in dark corners of large barns.  However, if you would like us to erect a barn owl box in your barn – or want specific advice on where to site a barn owl box – we are happy to help and offer free advice. Please contact the Trust.

We would like to thank Terry Pickford for his advice and support of this very worthwhile project.