Barn Owls flourish in the Valley

Last week Jenny and I carried out follow up checks on the breeding barn owls that we found on our initial Wokingham nest box survey in June. We were joined by Colin, Katy and Colin Shawyer (the Barn Owl Conservation Network  Coordinator for UK & Ireland).

Barn Owl leaving box (Chris Bean photo)

Barn Owl leaving box (Chris Bean photo)

Jenny and Colin monitoring

These protected raptors need our help, so armed with an accredited license to  carry out the monitoring, we headed out to revisit all 6 boxes where we found breeding barn owls in on our June monitoring for the Wokingham Barn Owl Project.

Weighing the chicks

We monitored the health of the chicks and aged them by weighing and measuring wing or feather length. On the smallest 4 week old chicks we recorded either the wing cord (which is the length of last wing section), or the length of feather pin emerging from the wing (which Jenny demonstrated below). On the older birds which are much closer to their 8-9 week fledging, we recorded the length of feather which had unfurled from the feather pin.  Thanks to Colin Shawyer’s research, this data gives an age accurate to within 1 day.  When handled with the correct training the chicks remain relaxed, often having a snooze on their backs (lower photo of 7.5 week old chick).

4 week old chick


7 week old chick

Across the 6 boxes it was very encouraging to see that of the 24 barn owl chicks or eggs we found in June, 23 of them had survived the intervening month. This survival rate is much higher than we expected due to the abundant early summer rain which can inhibit the adults hunting. Overall the monitoring was very successful and it will be interesting to see how this data feeds into the national records and trends.

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’.
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