Strange sounds of snoring?

Farmer Michael Calvert with one of the barn owl chicks which was born on a nest box on his farm near Greyabbey this summer, one of only three known nest sites in Northern Ireland.
Farmer Michael Calvert with one of the barn owl chicks which was born on a nest box on his farm near Greyabbey this summer, one of only three known nest sites in Northern Ireland.

Have you heard any strange snoring sounds at night? According to Ulster Wildlife, it could be the sound of barn owl chicks, and the conservation charity is urging people to get in touch, so it can help track down nest sites of this endangered bird.

“At this time of year, hungry barn owl chicks are calling to their parents for food, a rasping sound often referred to as snoring,” says Catherine Fegan, Barn Owl Officer with Ulster Wildlife.

“This call is exclusively associated with a nest site, and can be faint, but gets ever louder as the chicks grow and venture out of their nest. If you do hear ‘snoring’ or screeching sounds as you lie at night with your windows open it could indicate that a nest is nearby and we’d love to hear about it.”

With less than 30 to 50 breeding pairs of barn owls in Northern Ireland and only three known nest sites, Ulster Wildlife is working with farmers and landowners to ensure barns owls have suitable space to hunt and places to nest, thanks to support from Heritage Lottery Fund.

One such farmer Michael Calvert, of Barnwell Farm on the Ards Peninsula, erected a nest box seven years ago close to his rough grass margins – ideal hunting habitat for the birds. Last year, two chicks were born in the nest box – a first for Northern Ireland - and this summer his conservation efforts were rewarded with another two healthy owlets, which were ringed to help better understand these elusive birds.

Catherine added, “We know there must be more nest sites like Michael’s out there, but as barn owls range far in search of food, sightings of adult birds can be up to eight kilometres away from the nest. The unmistakeable ‘snoring’ from chicks at this time of year is the best hope we have of finding one and giving this threatened bird a fighting chance.”

Throughout August, teams of volunteer fieldworkers from Ulster Wildlife will be scouring the countryside for sights and signs of nest sites to help target conservation efforts, so any strong leads reported by the public will be followed up.

To hear barn owl chicks snoring at Barnwell Farm visit www.ulsterwildlife.org/barnowl or on Facebook @BarnwellFarmCottages

To report any strange snoring sounds or sightings of barn owls, contact Catherine Fegan, Barn Owl Officer at Ulster Wildlife on 028 9046 3112 or email catherine.fegan@ulsterwildlife.org