Barn Owls bouncing back in Wokingham

Last week volunteers joined us for two days of monitoring barn owl nest boxes across Wokingham Borough and the lower reaches of the Blackwater Valley. I’ve been monitoring and maintaining the nest boxes since 2002 to help the barn owl population recover. Our nest boxes form part of a national network which is thought to support 1/3 of the nationwide barn owl population, with the support of the Barn Owl Conservation Network and the British Trust of Ornithologists.  These protected raptors need a license accreditation to inspect the boxes, which I’ve gained through the kind support Andy Glencross & Duncan Fisher (Wokingham Borough Council) and Colin Shawyer (Barn Owl Conservation Network  Coordinator for UK & Ireland.)

Duncan checking nest box and collecting pellets for a school activity

Duncan checking nest box and collecting pellets for a school activity

Adult barn owl leaving box (photo by Melvyn)

Adult barn owl leaving the box (photo by Melvyn)

Last year barn owls were roosting in the boxes, but it was a poor year for breeding,  due primarily to a cyclic population dip in their vole prey which occurs every 3-4 years.  Nationally there was also a high nest failure rate, with females often unable to reach breeding weight or males not delivering enough food (Colin Shawyer). My survey last year supported this with barn owls or kestrels breeding in only 3 of the 17 local boxes.

Kestrel chicks - three with an extra hidden bottom

Kestrel chicks – three with an extra hidden bottom

This year the barn owls are bouncing back, with barn owls or kestrels breeding in 8 of the 16 boxes. The box repairs the volunteers carried out last year have proved invaluable, with 4 barn owl chicks found in a Hurst box with a newly fitted door.

In a Finchampstead nest box the poor breeding last year has bizarrely improved the success this year. In 2015 many of the mature females “knowing that they were in no condition to breed, made little attempt to re-settle at their nest sites, thus providing an open opportunity to the young incomers ” (2015 Season Update, BOCN, Colin Shawyer). In this case our resident infertile barn owl pair were replaced with a nest of 4 chicks.

Newly hatched barn owl chicks and eggs

Newly hatched barn owl chicks and eggs

Fluffy barn owl chicks 3-4 weeks old

Fluffy barn owl chicks 3-4 weeks old

Thank you to everyone for all your hard work.

Ranger Stuart

About blackwatervalleycountryside

The Blackwater Valley is located on the borders of Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire and runs for approximately 30km from the source near Aldershot, northwards to Swallowfield. At its confluence it joins the rivers Whitewater and Loddon. The Loddon eventually flows into the River Thames near Reading. Work in the Blackwater Valley is co-ordinated by the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership on behalf of the local authorities that border the Valley. Despite being surrounded by urban development the Valley provides an important green corridor for local residents As well as the Blackwater Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a small part of the Basingstoke Canal SSSI, three nature reserves within the Valley catchment and many other areas have been recognised for their ecological importance. The local planning authorities covering the Valley have designated 31 other areas as ‘Wildlife Sites’.
This entry was posted in Conservation, Moor Green Lakes, Volunteers, Wildlife and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Barn Owls bouncing back in Wokingham

  1. Bernard says:

    And thank you for collecting some pellets for me.

  2. Pingback: Barn Owls flourish in the Valley | blackwatervalleycountryside

  3. NIce photos! You’re doing some great work.

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