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Exciting first as owls barn and bred in man-made nest

By Linda Stewart

Published 18/09/2015

A barn owl
A barn owl
The chicks born in an artificial nest box on the Ards Peninsula
The chicks born in an artificial nest box on the Ards Peninsula

It is one of our most at-risk bird species but there is hope for the barn owl after the arrival of two very special chicks.

The babies hatched this summer on the Ards Peninsula are the first known barn owls in Northern Ireland to have been raised in a man-made nest box, according to Ulster Wildlife.

After raising their offspring, the parents are now believed to have laid a second clutch of eggs - a major boost for our tiny barn owl population, which is said to be as low as 30 breeding pairs.

Farmer Michael Calvert, of Barnwell Farm, put up two nest boxes six years ago to encourage the birds to breed. After he noticed some pellets and whitewash last winter he sought a licence to fix a camera trap outside the boxes to monitor activity, which confirmed that a pair of barn owls was attempting to breed.

"I'd almost given up when I caught sight of a white chick on the box platform being fed by one of the adults," Mr Calvert said. "To find out that there was a second chick was fantastic. It's been a joy to watch the birds grow, hear them screech and see them learning to fly."

 Catherine Fegan, barn owl officer with Ulster Wildlife, added: "This is excellent news as we know of so few nest sites in Northern Ireland, and certainly never within a box before. We can give these birds a chance."

The two female chicks were ringed under licence by the British Trust for Ornithology prior to fledging - another first for barn owls in Northern Ireland - to help track their progress and provide information about their behaviour, which will help underpin future conservation work.

Through its Be There For Barn Owls project, Ulster Wildlife is helping to reverse the decline in barn owls by working with farmers to provide advice on managing their land sensitively.

Throughout this month teams of volunteers will be scouring the countryside for signs of nesting sites to help conservation efforts.

  • If you have any information about barn owl sites or would like to report a sighting, contact Ulster Wildlife on 028 9046 3112, email or visit

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