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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Late-Breeding Barn Owl - the outcome

Back in September I posted on this blog about about some extremely late-born Barn Owl chicks (see "very late new-born owl chicks"), and said I let my reader know what the outcome was.

In that report I stated that there was no food in the nest, and that the male bird had not been seen for three days. I'm sorry to say that the male bird was never seen again, leaving the female to look after her brood by herself. Whether the male abandoned his family or met with an untimely end, we will never know. Anyway, the situation became quite desperate and, in spite of efforts by the landowner to assist by supplementing the female's efforts with the occasional supply of mice, the brood dwindled down to two surviving chicks.

The two chicks matured enough to be ringed and, eventually, both chicks made it out onto the ledge just below the nest-box entrance. However, whilst they were being observed on camera, the female returned with food and in the ensuing scrabble for a meal both chicks fell off the ledge. One was seen to return, but the second (a significantly smaller bird) didn't re-appear. 

The next day, a search revealed the second chick on a branch above the middle of a brook, clearly unable to fly back home. The landowner's son was lowered into the brook in a bucket and the owlet retrieved, and returned to the nest box.

A few days later and the turmoil on the ledge was repeated when the female returned with food. Again the smallest of the owlets fell, and was not seen to return. However, this time the outcome was not so fortunate. The bird was found dead nearby.

It was always going to be touch and go whether these chicks hatched, or survived with the eggs being laid so late. However, considering the actual circumstances with no male bird there to assist with the feeding, I think that it's a miracle that one bird was raised to fully-fledged status. It now has the rigours of the winter to contend with, and I wish it all the best of luck.


  1. Hi Richard, tahnk you for the update. Like you say, it was never going to be easy. Here's hoping for the remaining owl.

  2. Fingers crossed!! Have a great Christmas Christian, and I'm sure we'll be in touch again soon. Use that holiday to track down some more owls!

  3. That was a sad story! Its so important that whilst owlets are in the branching stage that they have a system for them that if the owlet falls it can climb back up to the nesting box.

  4. Hi MelandSyd. I agree that, with most owls, it's important that the owlets are given the best chance possible to return to the nest if they fall out. However, with Barn Owl (as you're probably aware as you have a pair of Barnies in a box as your signature image!), where the nests are typically high in the roofs of old buildings, or in nest boxes which are (for the owls preference) placed high off the ground, it's not so easy. The typical Barn Owl nest box has a relatively large verandah shelf outside the entrance hole (as was the case here), and this is usually sufficient. I think that, in this case, the owlet was probably undernourished and desperate for food, so without an adult to look after it, it emerged onto the shelf before it should have done.

    The consolation is that, after the last winter when, in some parts of UK, it was reckoned that up to 80% of Barn Owls had been lost. Those that are left (this pair being an exception) seem to have had a good breeding year from what I hear from some people.


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