Owl on film

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Hard proof – but what does it mean?

I’m thrilled to report that the barn owl box I built out of old “For Sale” signs in December is being used. I recently resurrected my old trail camera and set it up in the hayshed where the box was mounted, and I was absolutely delighted to find this image (above) on the memory card when I returned to check it this afternoon – (The date stamp is incorrect; this picture was actually taken at 2:35 this morning).

This photograph is obviously a triumph, but it actually poses many more questions than it answers. The only cast iron certainty is that a barn owl visited the box this morning. Assessing the situation on that basis alone, I can determine that the box is now on the radar for local owl traffic, but a single visit in four nights makes it extremely unlikely that nesting is taking place this year.

But then I start to wonder. This single photograph shows a barn owl approaching the box, but provides no evidence that it left again. I don’t know much about barn owl routines, but I am surprised if this bird was “calling it a night” with three hours of darkness still to exploit. The camera was triggered several times during the four day period when it was up and running, but there is nothing in any of the shots – they are just blanks photographs of the box and the slatted walls. I now begin to wonder if there is actually much more barn owl traffic than immediately meets the eye, and that the camera has simply been missing it. The camera angle is not quite what I’d hoped, and the trigger mechanism could easily overlook the arrival of owls coming in from higher up. This can certainly be tweaked over the coming weeks, and I am on tenterhooks to find out more about these birds.

Barn owls are amazingly tolerant of human beings. This is a busy, working shed with lambs penned in to one corner. The gate clangs open and closed a few times a day, and I wouldn’t have thought it would be ideal for a quiet, sensitive tenants. But then I remember a friend’s house near New Galloway where barn owls successfully bred in the porch of a busy family home. I look back to childhood memories of barn owls nesting in sheds on most of the local farms and being totally unperturbed by farm work.

I’ve often thought that a shortage of good nesting sites is a key factor in determining barn owl populations on the Chayne, and while it’s only logical that boxes would help, I get a buzz of excitement that my ham-fisted carpentry skills could be helping out.

This shed is an ideal spot for owls, and it will be very interesting to see how this situation develops.



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