Belfast Telegraph

Up to 14 chicks breathe new life into our tiny barn owl population

By Linda Stewart

Northern Ireland's tiny barn owl population has had a successful breeding year, with up to 14 chicks fledging from only two known nest sites.

It comes as barn owls in England had their best breeding year on record following an exceptionally mild winter.

Last year wildlife experts warned of a catastrophic decline in barn owls after a spate of very cold winters, but the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said numbers are recovering with up to two-thirds of pairs in some areas having two broods.

But in Northern Ireland the barn owl is now a Red List species, meaning it has declined by more than 50% in 25 years.

This week one of the young barn owls thought to have fledged from one of the two known nest sites - at Loughgall and Crumlin - was found dead, apparently hit by a vehicle.

Ulster Wildlife barn owl project officer Catherine Fegan said: "2014 has been a good year for Northern Ireland's barn owls when compared to last year in the aftermath of a prolonged cold spring in 2013.

"We know that successful fledging occurred at the two known active nest sites, with between five and seven chicks fledging in total. However, a young barn owl was found dead on Tuesday morning by one of Ulster Wildlife's barn owl survey volunteers, thought to have been hit by a vehicle within range of one of the known nest sites. With a survival rate of only 25% in their first year, there could be as little as two new barn owls surviving to breed in 2015.

"In order to do more to help this iconic species, I would appeal to anyone that thinks they have seen a barn owl or a barn owl roost or nest site to contact me at Ulster Wildlife. We are also keen to work with landowners who have suitable foraging habitat and would be interested in hosting a nest box."

BTO spokesman Shane Wolsey appealed for more volunteers to join its surveys.

  • If you spot a barn owl call 028 44830282 or email barnowls@ulsterwildlife.org

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