Barn owls nesting on privately-owned farmland, near Crumlin, have given birth to five chicks this year, the largest brood recorded here according to conservationists.
The nest site located in an abandoned outbuilding, near Lough Neagh, normally produces one to two chicks per year, which is average for these endangered birds, but according to Ulster Wildlife, the brood was the biggest it had ever recorded, despite the unfavourable weather conditions.
Conor McKinney, Living Landscapes Manager, at the local wildlife charity, said: “Barn owls were badly hit this year with the harsh winter and wet spring, which could have spelt disaster for breeding as it affects their ability to hunt. So, these record-breaking numbers are amazing and are largely thanks to the efforts of their dedicated volunteer nest minder, Ciarán, who stepped in and supplementary fed the birds to give the adults and their young the best chance of survival.”
Conor added: “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.”
Ciarán, the passionate volunteer from Crumlin behind the barn owls’ breeding success, has been monitoring the nest site for the last two years, 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 was 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 him.
“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. I am now hoping the birds will go on to have a second brood as they bred early, and that the fledgelings will take up the nest boxes I erected in the surrounding area, so I can continue to watch over them.”
The five owlets were ringed last week under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to help monitor their progress and provide further information about these elusive birds.
Throughout July and August, Ulster Wildlife’ team of volunteer field workers will be scouring the countryside, following up on barn owl sightings and checking nest boxes for signs of activity to help target conservation efforts.