Sandy, my adopted Barn Owl at the Barn Owl Trust, Devon
Thanks to an unknown photographer at the Devon Barn Owl Trust for this fine photo of Sandy taken in July 2005. The selection above shows the delicate patterning on the back and wings.
THIS IS SANDWELL, my exquisite Barn Owl. Weeell, not exactly mine perhaps. Sandy is a rescued owl who's looked after by the Devon Barn Owl Trust, and I adopted her two years ago chiefly to support their work. It was after I'd released our first orphaned tawny youngster, so I really wanted to adopt a tawny, but after some hunting around I found the work the Barn Owl Trust is doing so impressive that I settled for Sandy! At first I found Barn Owls strange, but now I find them quite beautiful — certainly one of the most exquisitely delicately marked of all owls. In flight too they are elegant and purposeful, unlike the floppier tawnies.
Sadly they seem to be scarce in our area. We know they're around as people have told us they've seen them, and I have a recording of a single wheezy screech captured one night by leaving a recorder running outside my bedroom window. We haven't seen one ourselves.
Why not adopt a Barn Owl?!
Adopting an owl is somehow just a very satisfying thing to do. You're not only contributing to the little creature's food, welfare and happiness, but obviously your input also helps to defray other operating costs borne by a rescue centre. I would suggest supporting the Devon Barn Owl Trust in this way as it's much more than just a rescue centre. They do excellent and influential work in a whole range of areas that benefit these owls -- for an example see below. Here's the BOT's Adopt a Barn Owl page. It's only £30 for a year.
Poor little Holly wasn't long in the wild. She was ringed in July 2001 as an owlet and found later that year with a broken wing. The BOT has around 50 owls in its care at any one time.
Holly, a rescuee at the Barn Owl Trust. (Photo courtesy of the Trust)
Barn Owl deaths on major roads -- a study by the Trust
An extensive study by the Trust based on 15 years of their own data shows how vulnerable Barn Owls are to fast traffic. More than half of all reported deaths in the UK are road casualties. The problem comes from a combination of two facts: Barn Owls range widely and they tend to fly low. Fortunately the Highways Agency seems to be taking note of these disturbing results, published in 2003, and may be about to introduce new guidelines for the design of verges along Britain's trunk roads to reduce such deaths. This would involve planting to force the owls to fly higher when crossing fast roads.
Some of the appalling conclusions of the study
Half of all known Barn Owl deaths occur on roads.
72% of Barn Owls known to have encountered a major road were killed.
Road deaths have more impact on Barn Owls than on any other creature.
The presence of major roads in rural England has removed Barn Owls from an area of between 8,100 and 16,200 sq km and depleted the population over an area of roughly 48,600 sq km -- this is 40% of the total area of rural England.
And not surprisingly (my comment), Barn Owls are rare -- there are now only 4,000 pairs in Britain.
The study is "Barn Owls and Major Roads: results and recommendations from a 15-year research project". It's downloadable as a pdf from this page summarising the BOT's Research. Go to the last summary item on the page, "Major road mortality . . " and the pdf's in the margin.
As the Trust says: "This is the first report ever to be published on the subject and reveals the devastating effect of major roads on this rare species."
The BOT's new website (February 2007)
The Barn Owl Trust has recently completely overhauled its website, making it very nice to look at and also providing lots of information on its work and on Barn Owls in general. Well worth a visit (click on the pic below). Barn Owl numbers in this country have been declining dramatically, and the site tells you a lot about why, and what can be done, all on the basis of very thorough work done by first-class research staff. There's a webcam now too (black and white only -- probably because it's infrared so you can see the owls at night). Best chances of seeing an owl are from dusk on. The Devon Barn Owl Trust shouldn't be confused with the rather similarly named Barn Owl Centre, which is in Gloucestershire.
Barn Owl nestboxes
It's likely that few know more about Barn Owl nestbox design and placement than the people at the Trust. Their Wild Barn Owl Conservation leaflets page has downloable pdfs on nestboxes for use on tree trunks, in barns and other buildings, and within the branches of large trees -- each a separate leaflet! There's also one on how to put them up. They do sell boxes, but only one for use under cover in buildings like barns. Here's the shop page for it. Note the nicely protected ledge to stop the kiddies falling off. I'm keen on ledges on my own boxes as young owls are very prone to falling.
I wish I could say the same about the two Tawny Owl box plans. These are the same tired old designs as advocated by the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology. I suppose they're better than nothing, but my advice is not to inflict them on your owls. I go into tedious detail about why not on my Nestbox pages. Let's hope the Barn Owl Trust gives them a rethink one day.
Here's a screen grab of part of the Trust's home page. Click to visit this hugely informative site. The picture shown may vary -- I like this one!
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