In a bad year for barn owls, the Countryside Restoration Trust have had a record four successful nests, with the latest being a rare second brood from one of the barn owl pairs on Lark Rise Farm. Barn owls nested at this particular area of the farm for the first time this year, becoming the third pair on the farm, a record number in itself. This second brood was at a nestbox 400 m from where the pair had reared 3 chicks earlier in the year.
The very large chick was seen by Vince Lea, the CRT wildlife expert, on the outside of a nestbox by Westfield Meadow on Thursday evening, 28th November, at dusk. In the half-light, it was hard to be sure that it was a chick, but the fluffy down seemed to give it away. He contacted licenced barn owl expert Colin Shawyer, who came over the next day and ringed the chick, which he established was a male. It is already making some attempts at flying and roosting in and around the nestbox and should be fully fledged in a few days’ time. The nearby nestbox was checked afterwards, and it was found that the parent birds are still using the box where they had their first brood.
Colin Shawyer of the Wildlife Conservation Partnership has already ringed the first three broods at Lark Rise and was astounded with this latest development in what has been a disastrous year for barn owls throughout the country: “I have only heard of one other this year, it’s most unusual to get second broods unless the first clutch is started by about 20th April and in this case it was a month later. Second clutches are almost always laid late July.”
The first clutch by the breeding pair was laid 22nd May producing 3 young, the youngest of which would have fledged on 31st August but it would have carried on returning to the nest site for food until about mid-September. The second clutch was laid 30th August producing 2 young, one of which died at 38 days of age.
Recreating large areas of hay meadow and grass margins around the farm has been instrumental in providing the large numbers of field voles and other small mammals that form the main diet of the beautiful owls, and providing lots of large nestboxes has given the birds places to breed. Barn owls are slowly making a comeback nationally, but from a very low position after the ravages of DDT and other pesticides, and the loss of 97% of traditional hay meadows since the 1940s.