Each year all owl boxes erected within The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Barn Owl Conservation Area are visited in the winter months to be cleaned and maintained. Any damaged boxes are repaired or replaced. This year we found three boxes that required renewal. Two were repaired off-site by a member of the volunteer team who is highly skilled in practical engineering techniques and one was replaced with a new one. The two boxes requiring repair were extensively damaged and had to be removed and transported back to his workshop for restoration.
Each box in the large conservation area receives a maintenance visit each winter.
When repaired a second visit to each site was undertaken to erect them again. This repair work saved us a lot of money in replacement box costs. It does however, extended the duration of the activity which occurs during the worst months of the year for bad weather. The task has to be completed before the owl breeding season begins in spring to prevent breeding disturbance, so with a lot of unsuitable days occurring it is a difficult one to achieve in the allotted time. Fortunately all team members are sufficiently committed to give up their valuable time to give it priority but it often means setting aside three or four days a week to capitalise on good weather opportunities.
Some very damaged boxes like the one found in this location have to be replaced. This shows the new box being fitted by the owl team.
The effort required on each visit to a box location can be considerable and a feeling of exhaustion at the end of a working day is not uncommon. Some locations take 20 minutes to walk from our vehicles to the chosen box carrying ladders and heavy equipment over wet and sticky ground. The mud sticks to our boots making each step more difficult than the last and this effort severely limits the number of boxes we can maintain in a day. The weather is always cold which makes handling ladders and tools difficult as much of the work has to be performed without gloves. In addition to the cleaning out and painting on site, repair work is often required especially where squirrel damage has occurred.
This shows another new box being erected and the amount of equipment required to undertake it.
This year we found 5 boxes which had squirrels nesting in them and all were extensively damaged by their uncontrolled gnawing. This required patches to be applied to the holes in the exterior walls of the box and bird friendly repellent inserted in each after the unwelcome nesting debris had been removed. The grey squirrel population has increased considerably in recent years to a degree that is proving exceedingly expensive for us to combat the damage they cause. Two thirds of the tawny owl boxes we had also erected in previous years have been totally destroyed and we have been forced to remove them as further repairs are pointless with re-occupation occurring as soon as we have departed. With the re-occupation comes continuing damage.
Every box is sited in a suitable location to give maximum habitat benefit to the owls.
Our barn owl box visits revealed 15 roosting owls this year which was less than the 22 we found last year. Last year proved to be a bumper year for the number of boxes being used for breeding, consequently it may mean that this year won’t be quite so successful. It largely depends on the spring weather and the availability of mice and voles for them to eat. The majority of the boxes were full of barn owl pellets which indicated they were continuing to provide welcome shelter for the owls and supporting their population number.
Many boxes are found to be occupied by roosting barn owls. The following pictures show some of the ones encountered this winter.
They leave as soon as they hear the team arrive.
They fly to the nearest tree cover or another box and wait for the work to finish.
Their silent but graceful flight is a distinctive feature of this species of owl.
Normally they don’t leave the boxes until dusk when they venture out to hunt for food.
It is therefore a rewarding sight to see them in daylight.
The conservation team members complete the work as speedily as possible to minimise the disturbance time and often see the owls returning when they depart.
Increasing the survival prospects of the barn owl population is the prime reason for our effort and our conservation area is religiously attended and monitored by highly motivated team members to further the interests of the owls in the 15 rural settlement area it now covers. Without this dedication, sacrifice of personal time and the hard work required, the survival prospects for our local barn owls would be severely diminished.