A pair of barn owls who have successful raised two chicks in a nest box on the Ards Peninsula have sparked hope amongst wildlife conservationists.
The chicks, which were born this summer, are the first known barn owls in Northern Ireland to have been raised in a man-made nest box, according to experts from Ulster Wildlife.
The success of this breeding pair, which is now believed to have a laid second clutch of eggs, could help boost our tiny barn owl population which is estimated to be less than 30 to 50 pairs.
Wildlife-friendly farmer, Michael Calvert of Barnwell Farm, put-up two nest boxes six years ago to help encourage the birds to breed. After spotting some pellets and whitewash last winter, he obtained 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.
He said: “I had almost given up hope, when I caught sight of a white fluffy chick on the box platform in June, being fed by one of the adults. I couldn’t believe my luck! To find out that there was a second chick was just fantastic. It’s been a joy to watch the birds grow, hear them screech and see them learning to fly. I’m very excited that the female may be nesting again, and will be keeping a close eye on the nest box over the coming weeks.”
Catherine Fegan, barn owl officer with Ulster Wildlife said: “This is excellent news, as we know of so few nest sites in Northern Ireland, and certainly never within a box before. Barn owls are in serious decline due to loss of suitable hunting habitat and natural nesting sites, such as hollow trees or old barns.
“I had almost given up hope, when I caught sight of a white fluffy chick on the box platform in June, being fed by one of the adults. I couldn’t believe my luck! To find out that there was a second chick was just fantastic.”Michael Calvert, Barnwell Farm
“With support from farmers, like Michael, who are taking small, practical actions on their land, from providing rough grass margins for barn owls to hunt, to putting up nest boxes, we can give these threatened birds a fighting 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, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Ulster Wildlife is helping reverse the decline in barn owls by working with farmers and landowners to provide advice on managing their land sensitively to encourage the birds, as well as undertaking surveys to establish their location.
Throughout September, teams of volunteer fieldworkers will be scouring the countryside for sights and signs of nesting sites to help target conservation efforts.
If you have any information about barn owl nesting sites or would like to report a barn owl sighting, contact Ulster Wildlife on 028 9046 3112, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ulsterwildlife.org/barnowl.