Thursday, 30 October 2014

Late Second Brood

A late brood of Barn Owls was ringed this afternoon which matched the record of 2013 as the latest brood that I have ringed; unlike last year though when the birds were a very late first brood these birds were the second brood of the year at the site near to Audlem.  A spread of ages among the birds indicates that initially the brood size must have been larger and one, or more, of the siblings has not made it through to fledging. The remaining survivors should have no such difficulties although they will be making their way in the world and seeking independence as 2014 draws to a close which represents the most difficult time of the year for birds to successfully complete their post-fledging dispersal. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A New (Unwanted?) Record

The discovery of this new female brooding her young owlets yesterday afternoon threw up a number of anomalies that go against conventional wisdom. At first glance the bird looked to be male; there was no diagnostic speckling on her breast or underwings and the edges of her facial disc were very pale for a female bird. The presence of a very large brood patch however did confirm the bird to be female. If weight is a good indicator of well being then this bird is very healthy indeed. She is the heaviest Barn Owl that I have ever encountered and I had to question the reading on my scales at first. They indicated that she weighed a staggering 497 grams which is  significantly heavier than what would be considered to be normal. I was sure that I must have made a mistake and went through the weighing process again in order to be certain. The readings did not change and I think that this lady must be the heaviest Barn Owl in Cheshire! 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Earliest Second Brood Ever

During our round of box checks this afternoon we discovered this female incubating six eggs at a farm near to Dutton. Her ring number revealed that she is a bird that I has first ringed as a chick in 2011 but also that she is the earliest female that I have found to be incubating her second brood of eggs in a single year following the successful fledging of the first. I had already ringed her brood of six owlets on 26 May at a different farm not too far away and they have already all been left to their own devices to find their way in the big wide world.. She has wasted no time at all in laying her second clutch of the year and in doing so has committed herself to a staggering minimum of four months of time being spent incubating eggs and brooding young this year. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014


Last night the 200th Barn Owl chick of the year was ringed and, most appropriately, she was found in a nest box high up in the roof of an old barn along with her two sisters. It isn't too often that we manage to ring in excess of 200 owlets in a single season in our area and so this landmark is to be celebrated. Perhaps this season's achievement is the most significant as it follows our worst ever breeding season last year. With more broods still to visit it looks like 2013 will break our records for breeding success and productivity.

Productive Farmyard.

A farm visit yesterday to ring some Barn Owls resulted in the bonus of a new Kestrel site being discovered when a female was spotted flying from an old sandstone barn. High up on the front wall is a small opening which catches the afternoon and evening sunlight. The chicks could just be seen bobbing their heads up and down to see what was going on in the wider world below. Upon inspection the cavity does not go through into the barn itself, but opens up into a wider ledge inside the wall providing a secure place for the Kestrel to nest. Six chicks were huddled together inside, which is the largest brood of the year and takes the number of Kestrel young ringed up to forty nine. Just around the corner, no more than ten yards away, an owl window opens into the side of the barn where five healthy Barn Owl chicks were also ready for ringing. A great result for one farmyard.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


This year's breeding season is likely to prove the most productive ever. Tonight this handsome 49 day old male became the 150th owlet to be ringed this season and it shouldn't be too long before the next milestone of 200 is reached. Such good news after a dismal 2013.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Owl Rescue - Update

In April I reported that we had rescued a breeding Barn Owl that was buried under Jackdaw nesting material and debris; see here . When I had found her she was seriously underweight and it was impossible to say for how long she had been trapped inside the box. Yesterday I returned to the farm to see what had happened to her, although realistically I knew what was likely to be discovered.

The female had been forced to abandon the tiny chick and her clutch of eggs in order to feed herself in order to regain body weight and optimal condition that may enable her to try and breed later in the year. Although this does seem harsh, it makes perfect biological sense in that she is already part of the breeding population and her survival is key. Although the brood has sadly failed it is still pleasing that she was rescued and lives to fight another day.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Breeding Season In Full Swing

It is very encouraging that 2014 is proving to be a very productive year following last year's desperate breeding success.

Box occupancy of Tawny Owls this year is at its highest level of recent times with good brood sizes too. Only last night did I ring the last owlet of the season.

It looks as though the local Barn Owl population has bounced back following the ravages of 2013. So far 50 breeding pairs have been found and they are showing great variety in terms of their development. Some birds that have already been ringed are ready to fledge whereas others, including a bird that I found this afternoon, are still incubating clutches of eggs.

Little Owls are reflecting the differing progress of their Barn Owl cousins. Some broods, such as this one, have already fledged whilst others birds are more in line with the norm and are still sat on clutches of eggs.

Kestrel box occupancy is also at its highest level for some time and it looks like we will find more young birds this year than ever before.

All in all things have started off very brightly in 2014.

Friday, 16 May 2014


Kestrels, along with Barn Owls, are enjoying a productive breeding season following the disappointments of 2013. The abundance of prey has meant that productivity is at its highest level for several years, with the biggest clutch found being a nest containing seven eggs compared to the norm of four or five. Breeding this year is earlier too and is about a fortnight ahead of  recent seasons. 

Breeding Female

Breeding Male

Monday, 5 May 2014

New Record

Earlier this evening I found this second year female incubating nine eggs. This is the largest clutch  that I have ever found and  is a direct  reflection of the availability of prey this year. Hopefully there will be enough room in the nest box for such a large brood to thrive. It will be interesting to return and see what happens.

Friday, 2 May 2014

May Day

May got off to a good start with the discovery of our 25th breeding pair of Barn Owls this season. This brood of five healthy chicks were found last night and their ages indicate that the first eggs were layed at the end of February. This is the earliest egg laying date locally since 2007.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dirty Woman

2014 is beginning to look like it will be a good Barn Owl year following the disappointments of 2013. Tonight I found our 24th breeding pair so far and there are many sites that still remain to be checked.

It does seem clear which bird of this pair is doing all of the work inside the nest site . The male, by contrast, is looking quite spruce and this is essential as he will be doing all of the hunting for his brood and his mate as well as for himself. His feathers need to be in tip top condition for him to be at his most effective as a hunter.

Friday, 25 April 2014

A Good Start

Last November I was invited along to a local wood by its new owner who was very keen to regenerate it for the benefit of wildlife and nature in general. We made a start by erecting some nest boxes for Tawny Owls and so it was particularly pleasing to find one of them being put to good use today. 

The female Tawny is still brooding her three chicks, her brood patch is clearly visible in the photograph below, but it won't be too long before she will leave them during the daytime to go and roost nearby, returning to the nest site at night in order to feed her young. Needless to say, the owner of the wood is delighted.

Breeding Female

Brood of Three

Brood Patch

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Eye Damage

Today we found this lovely  Little Owl with what sadly appeared to be a damaged right eye. Despite this she was otherwise in good health and was contentedly nestled in her box incubating a brood of four eggs. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Owl Rescue

It is certainly not unusual to find Barn Owl boxes occupied by Jackdaws and, as they cram as much material into the available space as they can, often small sticks and twigs can be seen protruding from the nest box entrance to indicate their presence. I came upon one such box this afternoon but all was not as it seemed. There was plenty evidence that a Barn Owl had been visiting the box judging by the large amount of droppings underneath it and when I climbed up the ladder to inspect the box I could hear the tell-tale calling of a newly hatched owlet. 

When I opened the box there weren't any Jackdaws present and  nothing could be seen except a box full of their nesting material that reached from the bottom of the nest chamber up to and out of the entrance hole. A small amount of the material is shown in two of the pictures below. After painstakingly removing it bit by bit I eventually uncovered this pale female bird incubating eggs and one newly hatched owlet. 

Although her plumage was in a glossy condition she was seriously underweight, obviously due to her lack of feeding as a consequence of being trapped under the Jackdaw nest. With everything now cleared out of the way she has a chance to regain weight and fitness . The young owls will have room to develop I hope that they can all fledge successfully later in the season. All that is now needed is for her mate to visit and feed both her and  the youngsters to enable this to happen.  

Trapped female.

First owlet and eggs yet to hatch.

Jackdaw debris.

Jackdaw debris.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Tail Moult

Female Barn Owls usually begin the moult of their feathers to coincide with the time when they are incubating their eggs or brooding young owls. This timing is deliberately chosen as it coincides with their period of least flight activity and it is also a time when her partner assumes responsibility for providing her food needs.

This third year breeding female, which I found today, is clearly showing her tail feather moult and the bedraggled state of it shows how the birds take advantage of the breeding cycle to replace their flight feathers. The impact of moult along with egg production and incubation place great demands upon the birds and it is essential that they are able to store up enough fat reserves beforehand to get them through this most demanding period of the year.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Easter Eggs

Kestrels, as well as Barn Owls, are breeding earlier than normal this year and this clutch of five eggs is my first find of 2014.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Interesting Recoveries

In late October I ringed my latest ever brood of Barn Owls and this fellow was the oldest of the brood of three. With late broods it is always going to be touch and go whether or not they manage to survive the perils of their first Winter and so it was particularly pleasing to find him again yesterday on his new territory. He has chosen very well and the field margins that surround the crops are providing fantastic hunting opportunities and this can clearly seen by the pictures below. I am sure that he will join the breeding population later in the season.

As a chick October 2013

Mature plumage April 2014

Food Cache
Productive Field Margin

Today I found this much more experienced male who had been ringed as a chick in April 2007. He is the second oldest Barn Owl that I have ever recovered and he is currently breeding with a new two year old partner and their chicks will be fledging later in the season

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Full Set

The discovery of this lady in one of my Little Owl boxes this evening completes the full set of nest box breeding owls and raptors for the farm in Antrobus again this year. Currently there are Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Little Owl and also Kestrels in residence. Perhaps what is remarkable is that the majority of the habitat on the farm is used for sheep grazing, which, as well as being very unusual in this part of the country, is also associated with providing poor habitat for small rodents due to the substrate of the grass layer being too closely grazed. Undeterred all of these birds continually choose to live and breed on the farm and long may that continue!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Close Shave

Luckily we have chosen to design bomb-proof boxes and the benefits are clear to see. Despite the large bough plummeting to the ground, the Barn Owl box stood steadfastly up to the adversity and, upon checking it this evening, this female had carried on regardless with her first chick hatching today.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

First Barn Owl Chick Of 2014

With just a couple of hours to spare this evening I decided to visit a nearby farm to check upon one of my Tawny Owl boxes. Upon arrival I was told that Stock Doves had taken up residence in the Tawny box but that Barn Owls had been seen flying to and from the nearby Barn Owl box. The box itself was covered in tell tale whitewash droppings, a sure sign that there were birds present and inspection revealed that this was indeed the case.

Following the curious pattern of recent discoveries this bird was a previously unringed female  and she too was entering her fourth year. As an experienced bird she was already incubating a clutch of five eggs along with a newborn owlet. The male bird was, as is the norm, roosting elsewhere but he is providing his mate with plenty of food which has enabled this large, early brood to be reared. A Wood Mouse lay uneaten inside the box and pellet remains included Short tailed Field Voles along with a Water Vole skull. Early indications so far this year seem to suggest that the birds are laying much earlier than in the past few seasons and that clutch sizes are bigger too.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Tawny Breeding in Full Swing

This lovely 3rd year spring* bird became the second breeding Tawny Owl that I have found this week. Both have been using nest boxes at new breeding sites which is particularly pleasing. She was in remarkably good condition and quickly settled back inside her nest box to continue her maternal duties. 
This find also represented reward for Robyn, the landowner, whose wildlife-friendly attitude has now resulted in three owl species (Barn, Little and Tawny) setting up home. 

* identifiable as two generations of feathers are found on the wing with some primaries and secondaries having adult patterns whereas others still have the juvenile patterns; tail with adult markings.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

After a Gap Year

Following last year's barren breeding season, when many owls chose not to mate, it was good to find my first chick from 2012 that has joined the breeding population. This male was ringed in June 2012 at Pickmere and he has travelled 4 km south to find a breeding territory of his own. His mate is currently incubating a clutch of eggs. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Is the Record Holder an Ageing Rock Star?

Last August I reported that this particular male was the oldest bird that I had ever recovered (he was ringed as a chick in July 2004) and today he extended his own longevity record when I found him at roost with a much younger, but nevertheless experienced, fourth year female. Proving that he still remains at the top of his game was the fact that she was incubating a clutch of five eggs. I think that he was smiling and winking at me!

Male displaying the classic pure white underparts.

His much younger lady.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

First Breeding Barn Owl of the Year

Tonight we found our first breeding Barn Owl of the year. After last year's dismal breeding statistics, it was really encouraging to find this bird so early in the season incubating a large clutch of seven eggs.