17 January 2020

Which box for which owl?

 

General Owl boxes ­ are bigger than ordinary bird boxes. They're shaped according to the needs of the species.

Tawny owls like to nest in a hollow tree trunks, so nesting boxes are tube-shaped to mimic their natural nesting site. Alternatively, leave any natural hollow branches in your garden for them as natural nesting sites where it's not dangerous to do so.

Little owl boxes are long with a hole at the top. There’s a nesting chamber inside as they like small spaces for nesting. They’re similar to the design of boxes for other large birds like woodpeckers, stock does and jackdaws.

Barn owl boxes are large and square, or sometimes triangular, with a ledge outside the entrance for young owls to stand on.

Siting your box

  • If you have several trees, fix a tawny owl box to one at the edge of the group.

  • A little owl box should be fixed to a tree about 3m above ground. In the wild, small owls nest in trees, on cliffs and down rabbit holes.

  • Barn owls like to nest in a solitary tree on the edge of woodland, between 3 and 5m above the ground.

  • Keep out cold drafts by facing all owl boxes away from prevailing winds. It also makes it easier for parents to fly to the entrance.

  • If it’s a DIY owl box, make sure there aren’t any nails sticking out which could injure nesting birds. And if you’ve bought the box, it’s worth checking that too.

  • If you fix the owl box to a tree, use a strap to keep it in place so you don’t damage the trunk.

    Maintaining your box

  • As with all nest boxes, do not disturb the box for cleaning until you are sure that the young have left. Tawny owls in particular can be aggressive when protecting their young.

  • Don’t be disappointed if your box stays empty for the first year. Birds often choose a nesting site during the autumn, winter or early spring. Leave the box where it is for the winter and it could be a nice dry place for birds to roost when the weather’s bad.

  • If you find unhatched eggs in your box when you climb up to clean it, you can only legally remove them between October and January – and by law they must be destroyed (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).

This is a report from Colin Shaw who is Widely recognised for his work on the study and conservation of owls and raptors, biologist and professional ecologist Colin Shawyer has collaborated with the BTO on projects such as Project Barn Owl (1995-1997) and the Barn Owl Monitoring Programme (2000-2009). As founder and co-ordinator of the Barn Owl Conservation Network (BOCN), Colin is in contact with Barn Owl ringers and nest recorders across the country and oversees the annual monitoring of over 3,000 nest boxes.

This is why I have decided to really concentrate on this species. As this report mentions 2018 was a poor season for the Barn Owl and all indicators suggest 2019 wasnt much of an improvement. That is not to suggest that certain areas of the Uk may have had a better season than other areas. I have no idea how many Barn Owl pairs we have in Gwent but I would like to think that numbers may have improved.

2018 summary

The Barn Owl breeding season was poor throughout much of Great Britain in 2018, characterised by nests failing with eggs and small chicks—especially so for pairs that laid in early-to-mid April—and successful nests averaging broods of only 1.5–1.9, lower than in 2017.

The early nest failures can probably be ascribed to the blast of cold and snowy weather dubbed the ‘beast from the east’, the relatively late arrival and prolonged severity of which likely hampered males provisioning their partners during the crucial period of courtship and incubation. Indeed this was revealed at some sites with static nest cameras, where males could be seen visiting only intermittently. For many pairs, this resulted in partly incubated clutches that were later abandoned.

15 January 2020

The severe weather in March and the first few days of April then gave way dramatically to the hottest and driest April on record and drought conditions persisted throughout summer. Grass did not grow—cattle had to be supplementary fed on some farms—and no doubt this did little to help breeding field voles at a time when their abundance was already low. Lack of prey, therefore, could well have affected Barn Owls that were beginning to nest or lay repeat clutches in June and July, although among those few that did nest and were monitored during this time, brood sizes averaged 2.8–3.2, closer to the 10-year norm.

Occupancy of nest sites also dropped in many parts of the UK in 2018, in some regions by a quarter to one-third of 2017, and even at nest sites where pairs were present for much of the season, many did not attempt to breed.

Usually in a given season, average timing of laying, clutch size and brood size figures for Barn Owl will be remarkably similar across the UK, but Wales provided the exception to the overall underwhelming picture in 2018, just as it did the previous year. Pairs were back at nest sites in abundance and brood sizes averaged 2.7–3.2. Barn Owls also fared better in south-west Scotland, where despite early failures on clutches of eggs, surviving broods averaged 2.5, and the southern English counties of East and West Sussex, where box occupancy was high and brood sizes averaged 3.2. Conversely, on some parts of the east coast, occupancy was especially low and nest failures far greater than elsewhere in Britain, though even then some small pockets further inland saw brood sizes average 3.3–4.0.

Thoughts on 2019

In January, as always, we caught Barn Owls that were back at nest sites in order to assess their condition. Weights of females turned out to be typical for the time of year and somewhat higher on average than at the same time in 2018, moreover they were very consistent between regions. Males were a good weight too, suggesting a healthy prey population. On the basis of this and my 35-year ongoing analyses of Barn Owl breeding productivity, I hope and expect 2019 to be a successful breeding season and vole abundance to be close to its 3–4 year cyclical peak, which ought to mitigate any effects of a severe winter or another late spell of cold, snowy weather. As always, though, Barn Owls at higher altitudes will be more susceptible.

6 January 2020

Image to the right and below show a House Sparrow colony nest box I made for a friend. This particular friend has really been through a challenging period in his life dealing with mouth cancer. He has been incredibly resolute whilst continuing to work. He is a inspiration  to others having to deal with cancer for the second time in his life. 

The very good news is that he is free from cancer following a recent check up.

This image below shows the dramatic difference between a Barn Owl nest box and a Tawny Nestbox. You can clearly see the the Barn Owl nest box is at least 3 times bigger.

3 January 2020

This Barn Owl nest box was a pretty smooth operation with Mark (farmer) helping out with his tractor. These particular nest boxes are very heavy due to materials used. They are made out of sterling board and finished off with a Indian Hard wood. The hard wood is actually pallet strips and are very heavy. Before I started construction of these particular nest boxes I made sure that the farmer had a tractor at hand and could be used to lift the nest box into place. This then becomes a straight forward fitting. The nest boxes are basically screwed to the Oak tree using 6 inch screws with a support frame fitted underneat the nest box which basically takes the weight of the box.

I January 2020

So as you can see I started 2020 with a bang. First Barn Owl nest box erected for 2020. This was erect near Llanarth, Monmouthshire with the help of Nigel Williams.