More Barn Owl Checking: Thursday, 17th June 2021

Cracking session this morning checking owl boxes with Annie. We started out at 9:30 (my laziness after being up at 3:00 yesterday morning) and we only managed 4 boxes in 2.5 hours. What with travel, loading and unloading the ladder, and some emergency box maintenance, it was actually good going. Our actual time handling the birds was less than 5 minutes per box. They were all (bar one) very sleepy – probably because they have been up all night being extremely well-fed.

The breakdown of what we found was as follows:

Box 1: a roosting adult

Box 2: 4 extremely well-fed juveniles, downy, some tail feather development. So well fed that they could afford to leave a dead short-tailed vole in the larder and 3 of the four could all expel some extremely messy projectile poo in my direction. Only one hit. We had to reaffix the back of the box, as it had come adrift. The landowner was extremely helpful: providing me with some fine wire and a pair of wire cutters to enable me to effect the repair. This was one of the four owlets in his box:

Photo by Annie Hatt

These landowners are so enthusiastic about the Barn Owls on their land. I know when I speak with them that they will be able to tell me chapter and verse on how the parents have been acting.

Strike One – photo by Annie

Box 3: 4 naked, very newly-hatched young and an adult. We didn’t think there would be anything in there, as the back of the box was missing. We looked all around for it and couldn’t see it. When I climbed up to have a look, the back was lying flat at the back of the box, absolutely covered in poo. I gave it as much of a clean as I could and managed to reaffix it so that, hopefully, it will last until we can make a permanent repair when we go back to ring them in a couple of weeks.

Box 4: 3 nicely developed young. Feathers medium, and they should fledge within the next two weeks. One, which I have called Hissing Sid appearing on Britain’s Got Talons, was a remarkably sparky bird. Had we left this another week I would not have been able to ring him, for fear of it fledging prematurely. He was hissing at me all the time until he was in the bag and did so again after I put him back and until I closed the box again. I say “he” because he had enough developed plumage to establish sex.

I suffer for my schedule 1 licence! My left hand has a number of new holes in it. This box too had issues with the back panel. It looked as if someone had taken a hammer to it and smashed it inwards. Again, I did a running repair to keep them safe until fledging. Outside box 4, as well as the pellets in the box, Annie found these masses of bones clumped in the bushes underneath.

Food mass – photo by Annie

This morning’s session just shows how variable Barn Owl nesting / breeding can be: 3 different broods at very different stages of development, never mind the intra-brood variation, all within the vicinity of Webb’s Wood in the Braydon Forest area.

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