Room for an owl?
Catching a glimpse of a barn owl in flight must be one ofHthe most rewarding wildlife experiences you can have.
However, seeing one is becoming less and less likely. Once wides pread across the UK, barn owls have suffered declines since the 1950s, and now have protected status – meaning it's illegal to harm the birds or their eggs, young and nests.
Barn owls are finding it harder and harder to find places to nest, as old barns are pulled down or renovated to provide housing for humans. Intensive farming has led to a loss of foraging habitat, and extreme weather conditions created by climate change are also leading to starvation for many of these birds.
If you have enough space you can provide a home for a barn owl, even if you don't have a barn.
Good barn owl habitat includes rough grassland (not grazed pasture) with tussocky grass and a good ‘thatch’ in the bottom. This is the perfect home for field voles. Barn owls adore field voles. Wildflower and hay meadows, overgrown hedgerows, banks, young tree plantations and woodland edges all provide good hunting grounds.
Estimates of acreage required by a pair of breeding barn owls can vary - up to 100 acres - but you don’t have to own it all! As long as there are similar areas and plenty of rough field margins or woodland edges within a couple of miles, all should be well.
Now we come to the barn.
Well, obviously if you have an old disused (or not too frequently or noisily used) building on the land, you’re nearly there. Remember that the owls will need 24/7 access and that it will be infinitely more attractive if fitted with an interior nesting/roosting box.
A good, big tree is a splendid alternative but it will need a special nest box, either fitted between the branches or fixed, well out of human reach, on the trunk. There should be a clear ‘flight path’ to the entrance hole.
If you have no suitable tree you could erect a pole nesting box. Don’t go fixing a box to an electricity or telephone pole without express written permission!
Your nest box needs to be erected before the end of March to give owls a chance to find it, check it out and take possession. If you don't get chance to erect the box until later in the year, it's still worthwhile - barn owls may have finished nesting but there is still a good chance that they will use your box as a roosting site as they need several places to roost within their territory.
Don’t forget that a box intended for barn owls may not necessarily be adopted by barn owls and you shouldn’t give a hoot if it is claimed by tawny owls, little owls, kestrels or even jackdaws. They all need somewhere to live.
Try erecting another owl box on another tree a hundred yards away - or even several more boxes if you have enough space and enough trees!
For detailed information on various types of barn owl nesting boxes (and lots more about barn owls) visit The Barn Owl Trust at www.barnowltrust.org.uk
Even if you don't have a barn, you can still provide a home for a barn owl. Ken Dykes tells us how
Little Green Space January 2016