Boost for endangered barn owls as new nest site discovered

Conor McKinney and volunteer Ciaran Walsh from Ulster Wildlife check the new barn owl nest site the charity installed outside Downpatrick almost five years ago and prepare the chicks for ringing to help monitor their progress
Conor McKinney and volunteer Ciaran Walsh from Ulster Wildlife check the new barn owl nest site the charity installed outside Downpatrick almost five years ago and prepare the chicks for ringing to help monitor their progress

Northern Ireland’s tiny barn owl population has been given a much-needed boost with the discovery of a new nest site in Co Down.

The find brings the number of active barn owl nests in Northern Ireland up to three; a welcome addition to our barn owl population, which is estimated to be fewer than 30 to 50 breeding pairs.

Wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford with the two barn owl chicks discovered on his farm near Downpatrick  a welcome new nest site in Northern Ireland for this endangered bird

Wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford with the two barn owl chicks discovered on his farm near Downpatrick a welcome new nest site in Northern Ireland for this endangered bird

Two fluffy white chicks made their first appearance this week from a nest box erected almost five years ago outside Downpatrick by conservationists from Ulster Wildlife, much to the delight of wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford.

“About two weeks ago, I thought I heard snoring sounds coming from one of the nest boxes,” said Mr Sandford, who chairs the Nature Friendly Farming Network and has won awards for his sustainable farming work.

“This is a distinctive begging call made by hungry chicks, so you can imagine my excitement after years of occasional sightings. I contacted Ulster Wildlife immediately to take a look and was ecstatic when we found chicks.”

Conor McKinney, from Ulster Wildlife, said, “We are delighted for David whose wonderful farm is now home to a family of barn owls and pleased one of our nest boxes finally attracted some special occupants. Barn owls are in serious decline in Northern Ireland caused by a lack of nest sites and suitable foraging habitat. Luckily, this pair couldn’t have chosen a more sympathetic farm to set up home with wild bird cover, meadows and mature hedgerows – holding plentiful mice and shrews for barn owls to thrive.”

The chicks were checked and ringed under license from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to help monitor their health and survival. During the process, a ring was spotted on one of the adults as it flew from the nest, which the charity believes may have been one of the chicks it ringed over the years from a neighbouring nest site on the Ards Peninsula.

To help ensure the survival of Northern Ireland’s endangered barn owls, Ulster Wildlife has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to raise £20,000. A donation of just £10 could help improve 1m of hedgerow and £100 could help build and install a nest box. If you give a hoot, donate today at www.ulsterwildlife.org or call 028 9045 4094.