As industrialization continues across the UK, so does an increased risk to natural habitats. Barn Owls are among species that can be heavily affected. Every year 4000 pairs of Barn Owls produce 12000 young and it’s estimated 3000-5000 are killed on roads. Many of these deaths involve young owls in the autumn who are in the middle of post-fledging dispersal – moving out of their parent’s territory and fending for themselves. The best way to prevent this is to guide the owls to fly higher when crossing. Planting high hedges or closely-spaced trees on both sides of a road means the birds have a lot of shelter to work with.
Other major hazards include rat poison. The owls are contaminated when they eat an infected rat, and this applies to other birds of prey as well. In 2010 the statistics for contaminated Barn Owls reached 91%. The last report from the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme showed 100% of kestrels were infected alongside 94% of Red Kites. The truth is rats are a threat that must be controlled, but there are more sustainable methods than poison, reducing the risk to Barn Owls.
Suggestions for preventative methods are taking away rat food sources, encourage natural predators like owls by setting up nestboxes or using non-toxic rodenticides like Eradibait. The powdered corn cob is lethal when it’s in the majority of a rat’s diet but doesn’t effect non-rodents.
Erecting nestboxes is a good way of making sure Barn Owls are protected. When deciding on the best place to put it consider placing a box 3+ metres above the ground. Using nestboxes in large buildings is cheaper and provide extra shelter for the owl. Another option is to covert your loft into a nesting area so the birds are warm and provided for all year round.
Managing your land is the best way to help Barn Owls. Make sure the land is more than 1km away from the nearest motorway and ensure there is little layer grass. This kind of grass is 70mm deep and encourages Field Voles to make their tunnels. The grass also provides cover for shrew and mice. These species make up 82% of Barn Owl diets in the UK.
The Barn Owl Trust is an organisation dedicated to maintaining the owl species. They work to conserve land, raise awareness and point out the best ways of helping Barn Owls nation wide. Why not help them by adopting an owl and giving them a fighting chance at survival?
Barn Owls are undoubtably one of the most beautiful birds in the world. When I visited Chester Falconry, I made a friend called Peaches who made the day all the more special for me.