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.