How iconic are these birds – floating along a hedgerow, a silent mini torpedo.
I would have been at most 5, but I can still remember the buzz of excitement as my father stopped dead and pointed out the barn owl sitting on top of the old stone wall by the cowshed. That was my last sighting of a barn owl on this farm for 50years. I’m sure they were around… they must have been because the next part of the story starts with an owl pellet.
Scroll on to 2020, I’m now farming the same farm and in a gateway I come across an owl pellet – the regurgitated remains of what ever prey was indigestible. It was very dark, cylindrical, and about 2 inches long. The internet quickly suggested that this was from a barn owl. How excited was I? Tawney owls can be seen and heard regularly across the farm but a barn owl!
By coincidence Steve the Owl Man or Owley as he’s also known, popped up to ask whether he could survey any likely sites for barn owl boxes. Within a month a box was put up – not in a barn, but in a big old ash tree not far from where I’d found the pellet. The following year – not even a Jackdaw used the box! In 2022 again no activity in the box but I did have an amazing night-time encounter, with the owl hovering about 6ft above the ground about 10 ft away!
This year I was waiting in the pickup for a cow to calve with my binoculars close to hand as always. The cow was underneath the ash trees and I was a little distance away where I could keep an eye without disturbing her. As the sun went down I was watching the stock dove (which I thought was using the owl box to nest) and a redstart who was nesting close by when movement in the tree alerted me to the fact that there was a barn owl sitting on a branch. As I raised the binoculars it silently floated right over me to the hedgerow behind. Within quarter of an hour the owl was back and heading for the box (which was just out of sight!) Off he flew again. The cow by this time had calved and all my focus was on the calf to make sure he got up and sucked, to have his first feed of colostrum within 4 hours of birth.
The following night I went back to see the owls. Parked in a better spot I saw an owl leave the box as another flew off a branch. 2 adults was a very positive sign. Seeing flies at the nest entrance in the day was another positive sign. I phone the Owl Man and he arranged to pop up and have a look… 4 beautiful owl chicks! 2 almost fully fledged, 2 about a week behind. Owls lay about 7 eggs over 15 days. Some eggs don’t hatch, not all chicks survive but to have 4 chicks at this stage shows there is a good food supply in the area and the weather has been favourable. Barn owls do not have waterproof feathers so can only hunt in dry weather, too many wet nights and the chicks will fail.
The chicks have now been professionally ringed and recorded so that if found we can trace where they have come from and learn more about these amazing birds.
Entirely voluntary Steve is part of the Glamorgan Barn Owl Group www.gbog.org.uk. He works incredibly hard to improve the fortune of these birds and other raptors in the Glamorgan area, farmers all across the county are now providing homes for owls, kestrels and other raptors thanks to his and the other members of the group’s dedication.