BIRDING THE LUNE ESTUARY, THE FOREST OF BOWLAND AND BEYOND.
Monday, 30 December 2013
The Barn Owl.
This image is the sorry sight of a dead Barn Owl caught by the wing during the very windy weather we've had recently. The bird was photographed over the Christmas holiday and is seen hanging from one of two electricity lines which crosses the road from Rose Bank Farm to Hawksdale Pasture Farm, Nr Dalston, Carlisle which now is a new development. How long would this beautiful bird have suffered prior to its untimely death, an example of the kind of hazzard birds have to live with in a modern world with cables, wires, wind turbines and extreme bad weather.
A hundred years ago the Barn Owl was a common farmland bird, but if this year is anything to go by this beautiful bird is now far more scarce than it was in the 1980's when it was estimated to have declined by a massive 70% since 1932. This year is being described by conservationists as the worst Barn Owl breeding season for over thirty years.
A run of extreme weather events since 2009 has devastated Barn Owls. The final blow was March this year when mortality kept increasing and by the end of the month huge numbers were dead. At a time when Barn Owls should have been thinking of breeding there was an increase in reports of dead birds many of which had starved.
Numbers were already low due to the bitterly cold winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 and the extremely wet summers of 2010 and 2011. But things were looking good in 2012, the weather in March was excellent and the owls started breeding earlier and by late May nests were being found with as many as seven well-grown owlets. But in June it all went badly wrong, the rains started and the adults were prevented from hunting and many young birds starved, in some cases full broods of owlets were found dead in the nest.
There are some terrible statistics surrounding the Barn Owl in 2013, out of in excess of 275 sites monitored Barn Owls were nesting at only 7 of which just 4 had young with others abandoned. In another monitored area, 120 sites - usually with 36 nests - had just 4 occupied. Outside the UK in Hungary, out of 30 regular nests in one area only one active was found with a solitary bird, a situation regarded as pretty much the case all over Hungary. No doubt these records are reflected in our area in particular around the Rawcliffe/Pilling farmlands, and although I have no accurate reports to hand I know of one observer who has found dead Barn Owls and recognised fewer sightings and low numbers at traditional locations, I hope to be privileged with some local information in the New Year. On a brighter note....a much brighter note.