Friday, 4 August 2017

Ringing Barn Owls

One of the most memorable days of the year was being invited to help ring a brood of Barn Owls near Montgomery. The four chicks were well fed and healthy: one male (with pure white underwing) and three females (with black spots on the white underwing). I have never been a ringer but was delighted to be asked to come along.  

Paul Roughley is up the ladder, passing out the chicks of the nest-box one by one through the inspection door. In the hand the chicks were very placid and mostly silent. One hissed a little and occasionally clacked its bill. On the left is trainee ringer Ceri, holding a pole with a baffle to cover the entrance hole. This has been a good year for Barn Owls in Montgomeryshire, with more pairs than usual reported. In our area, most choose nest-boxes or natural tree cavities rather than barns or other buildings. Barn Owls are classified in their own family, Tytonidae, while all other European owls are grouped together in Strigidae. 

Having ringed, weighed and measured each one, Paul hands them to me for a few moments before carefully returning the precious cargo to their nest. The floor of the box is piled high with pellets regurgitated by the parents, containing the fur and bones of small mammals. As the parents break up the pellets with bill and feet, the bed becomes a dry compost heap that helps to warm up the chicks - very important when they are first hatched and at their most vulnerable.    

 Here's an overview of the scene, showing triangular box on a mature oak in a landscape of lightly grazed parkland, ideal for hunting Barn Owls. Paul wisely recommended we don't put these photos on social media, so that we can't be accused of treating wildlife like cuddly toys. So, please don't share this blog! Many thanks to Mike and Sarah for the top three photos.