Barn owls have been really conspicuous this summer. There has hardly been an evening’s lamping in which a barn owl hasn’t played a part, and they pass though the beam of my lamping torch so often that I hardly even notice them anymore. The same could hardly be said until May, when to see a barn owl on the farm was a real rarity. Most of the birds I have been seeing recently must be this year’s batch, and the time will soon come when they will spread out and head off to find their own breeding territories.
The Chayne is a barn owl’s dream. Acres and acres of blow grass, heather and rushes provide a home to literally thousands of mice and voles, and the wide open expanses are ideal for hunting on a clear night. And that’s not all. The various sheds and ruins scattered across the farm did until last year support three breeding pairs of barn owls, but the comparative absence of mature broadleaved trees means that they are limited for nest sites entirely to the old buildings. When an abandoned shed came back into human use in February, the owls turned their noses up at it and they haven’t returned. It now means that on what should be a vast savannah of pristine barn owl habitat, there are only two good nest sites for several miles in any direction.
Nobody knows what the numerical population of wild birds should be, but having looked at the habitat on offer, it’s possible to see that good breeding sites are a potential bottle-neck. Far be it from me to follow the RSPB’s proscriptive approach towards habitat management, (in which equations and sums are used to provide a definitive figure for optimum population numbers). I just like barn owls and if I can help a third pair of birds breed and raise their young on the Chayne then I’ll be very satisfied.
Taking two old plastic mango chutney barrels from work, we designed a small barn owl box with a porch and a spacious interior, which just needed to be fastened into place with ratchet straps. I chose an old ash tree which hangs down above the gate burn not only because it is one of a few decent trees on the farm but also because I have seen owls up that way recently. It was the precarious work of a few moments to strap the barrel into place, stuff in a few twigs, some soil and some dead leaves, then negotiate a rather treacherous ladder back to ground again.
From what I can gather, the order of the day with owl boxes is to forget that you have them. Pay too much attention to a box and it is sure to be ignored by the local owls. I will just have to put the project out of my head, then be pleasantly surprised in a few years time when, touch wood, I have some guests.