Belfast Telegraph

High five... record brood of owls born to nesting pair in Co Antrim

The five owlets, the largest brood recorded here
The five owlets, the largest brood recorded here
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

Meet Northern Ireland's largest recorded brood of barn owls.

And it's all thanks to a passionate volunteer who gave them additional food throughout the harsh winter.

The owls, nesting in Crumlin, gave birth to five chicks this year.

The endangered birds roost on privately-owned farmland in an abandoned outbuilding near Lough Neagh, and normally produce one to two chicks per year.

Ulster Wildlife said this year's brood is the biggest it has ever recorded, despite the harsh winter and wet spring weather conditions, which affect the parents' ability to hunt.

Ulster Wildlife's Conor McKinney said: "Barn owls were badly hit this year with the harsh winter and wet spring, which could have spelt disaster for breeding.

"These record-breaking numbers are amazing, and largely thanks to the efforts of their dedicated volunteer nest minder, Ciaran (Walsh), who stepped in and supplementary-fed the birds to give the adults and young the best chance of survival.

"With breeding pairs estimated to be around 30 to 50 in Northern Ireland, and with only three known active nest sites, this bumper brood will provide a welcome boost to the local barn owl population and hopefully help these iconic birds make a welcome comeback."

Mr Walsh, the passionate volunteer from Crumlin behind the barn owls' breeding success, has been monitoring the nest site for the last two years in order to help the charity with its efforts to protect the species.

He said: "When I saw the male return from hunting for three consecutive days without food and soaking wet in one of the worst weeks in December, I knew the pair of birds were in serious trouble.

"After doing some research, I made the decision to feed them in severe weather and from the reaction of the starving male that night, it could have saved his life.

"So, you can imagine how I felt two weeks ago when I saw five owlets poke their heads out of the nest for the first time on the nest camera; what a moment - I jumped for joy around my living room and knew it had all been worth it."

The owlets were ringed last week to help monitor their progress and provide further information.

Belfast Telegraph


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