Communicating the South Downs

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Watch the chicks on our Barn Owl cam

The story so far:

In June our male and female barn owls were keeping five eggs warm (that we could see). Unfortunately the camera inside the box was knocked by one of the owls flying into the nest box so it was off centre. Our rangers then had to wait to see if the chicks hatched before re-positioning the camera.

On 14 July three chicks were weighed and ringed – see picture above – which also meant we could move the camera. Now we’re watching them as they grow and hoping to see them fledge.

Barn owls are on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 which means the birds, their nests and their young are protected at all times throughout the UK. Our Rangers must have a Schedule 1 licence to disturb a nest box.

Ornithologists believe 2013 was the worst year for barn owls on record. As part of project Barn Owl Box (BOB), our rangers have been working with land owners to maintain suitable habitats for barn owls to hunt effectively. Our rangers and volunteers have also been working hard to make nest boxes for these majestic birds. This year is the first time we are able to broadcast a webcam from inside a nest box, which has been taken up by two barn owls.

If you’re a landowner and want to attract barn owls to your land, you can find out how to create suitable habitats .

Did you know?

  • Barn owls lay up to six eggs each 1-2 days apart to give the chicks a good chance of survival.
  • Barn owl’s main source of food is field voles, but they will also eat mice, shrews, baby rats or birds and invertebrates. The owls preferably need to eat everyday so a constant food supply is essential, which is why they lay just one egg every few days.
  • Field vole numbers fluctuate depending on the weather and habitat which affects the number of barn owls that lay eggs and the number of chicks that survive.
  • Barn owls hunt by sound. They usually prefer to hunt at dawn or dusk, if the weather is bad you may spot one in the day when it’s dry.
  • A suitable nesting site for a barn owl would naturally be a big tree, like an oak.  The barn owl boxes made by our Rangers replicate the natural holes in the trees. They also like to nest in old buildings and barns.
  • The birds don’t make nests in the traditional sense, they would naturally rely on the woody debris in the bottom of the tree hole. To simulate this bedding, the Rangers initially put a layer of woodchips in the boxes to stop the owl’s eggs from rolling. Eventually, the regurgitated pellets will form a layer to keep the eggs safe.
  • Barn owls swallow their prey whole including the skeleton and use their stomach acid to digest the meat, leaving the indigestible fur and bones to be regurgitated in the form of pellets.
  • Cheeky birds that have been found nesting in the boxes include stock doves, kestrels, mandarin ducks and jackdaws. One of our rangers has even found squirrels and wasps.

Please email any questions you have about our barn owls or barn owls in general to BarnOwl@southdowns.gov.uk

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