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31 August 2012

The Barn Owl's secret weapon

Below, an unusual picture of a Barn Owl's ear, photographed during the Duhallow Barn Owl Survey this summer. The ear opening is much larger than on comparably sized birds, and the openings are slightly asymmetric on each side of the head, allowing more precise location of sounds.

Barn Owl ear (M.O'Clery).

The heart-shaped facial disc which is so prominent on Barn Owls, is composed of slightly stiffer feathers, and it is believed that these further channel sound toward the ears, further enhancing an already exceptional hearing ability.

28 August 2012

Last Barn Owl nest?

As the summer slowly slides into autumn, and the breeding season draws to a close, there are only a few Barn Owl nests still containing young. About half of all Barn Owl nests failed to produce any young this summer, due mainly to the extremely wet weather, and at the majority of those sites which produced young, the fledglings have departed to find their own way in the world. 
However, we received a phone call recently from an interested farmer in Duhallow, who reported three young Barn Owls on the roof of a derelict cottage. Upon investigation, they bred in the chimney of the old house, and fledged about mid-August. One was still present a week ago, but last night, all were gone, though one of the parents still arrived at the nest at dusk to have a look around.
Perhaps this will be the last nest discovered during this summer's survey?

A rare photograph of two young Barn Owls on the chimney of a derelict house just outside Duhallow, in late August 2009. At this age they are fully developed and are indistinguishable from adults, though their exaggerated head-bobbing behaviour and loud 'snoring' calls showed them to be fledglings (Photo: N. Sheehan).

26 August 2012

Kestrel ringing recovery

A Kestrel, which was ringed on 4th June this year as one of a brood of five chicks near Ardfert in Co. Kerry, was found injured on the outskirts of Athlone a few days ago. The bird had most likely been struck by a car and had a damaged leg. It is now with an experienced falconer in Co. Monaghan and should make a full recovery. Concerned locals had found the bird and were finally able to place it in the appropriate care, with the help of local vets and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

One of these five chicks crossed half of Ireland before being struck by a car (You can click on the image for a closer view). It will hopefully make a full recovery (Photo: John Lusby).

20 August 2012

Late Long-eared Owl nest

As the Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project moves into the second half of August, all the young Kestrels have fledged, while all Barn Owl chicks have hatched and quite a few have fledged. The few Long-eared Owl chicks that made it to fledgling stage were mostly well-developed and mobile by late June, and have already dispersed away from their nest sites. 

There might still be late Long-eared Owl nests out there... (M.O'Clery).

The Duhallow Long-eared Owl Survey is on the last of four stages, and although slightly outside one of the three 10km squares of the study area, at least one more Long-eared Owl nest has hatched young, even at this late stage. They were heard and seen not too far from Newmarket on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

So if you are out and about at night in Duhallow and you hear the loud and persistent squeaking of young Long-eared Owl chicks, do let us know. You can hear the sounds on this page HERE.

14 August 2012

New Barn Owl site

The Duhallow Barn Owl Survey has revealed some unusual nest sites in summer 2012, including one in a water tank (see this post HERE), one in an unfinished new house (see this post HERE) and three in tree cavities (see this post HERE). 

Another new nest was found yesterday, though in many respects it is a fairly typical nest site in Ireland. It is in a secluded, abandoned two story farmhouse in Duhallow, with many slates missing and the inner floors collapsed. Two fully developed young, well able to fly, were in the upper section of the house, and there was much evidence of pellets and feathers indicating they were there for quite some time. Indeed, locals tell us they have seen owls at this site for many years.

One of the more typical Barn Owls sites in an abandoned farm house (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Like many Barn Owl sites in Duhallow, and elsewhere in Ireland, the young must now be on the verge of leaving, and it might even be the case that there were three or more chicks here, and that some have already left. These coming weeks are fraught with danger for the fledglings as they leave the relative safety of the nest site to find their own territories. Young Barn Owls appear to disperse in random directions, and can travel between 10km and 100 km or more, and once they leave, they won't be back. Hopefully they will survive the dangerous journey and find their own secure nest sites.

11 August 2012

Ballyferriter female pairs up

The female Barn Owl from Ballyferriter, which was recently re-trapped at a site in Duhallow, has paired up with a male. After previously nesting successfully in 2011 at Ballyferriter, near Dingle, she was still present yesterday evening at her new site in the chimney of a disused cottage in Duhallow. The pair were seen to indulge in courtship feeding and mating at the site. 

A female Barn Owl, originally from Ballyferriter, now paired up and apparently nesting in Duhallow (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Had this behaviour been observed in spring, you would conclude that the pair were at the stage of laying eggs, but as it approaches mid-August could the new pair be really considering nesting this late? It's certainly possible. Fledged young have been recorded still at the nest as late as early December at one or two Irish sites, but it would be unusual. If they are just about to lay eggs now, the young wouldn't fledge until mid-November. It would be a high-risk strategy, as the young would need to become fully independent before the worst of the winter weather kicks in, but if the autumn and early winter prove mild and dry (and surely it can't get any wetter than this summer?) then they might just make it. We will be watching this site with great interest in the coming weeks.

You can read about re-trapping the female on this page HERE

9 August 2012

How long before a nest box is used?

Despite the poor breeding season in 2012, one of the great positives during the project has been the uptake of a nest boxes by Barn Owls. A box put in place in a barn in Duhallow last November produced two young, and we have a female now resident in another which was only installed in early 2012. Another bird has been sighted at a third box.

As the Project heads toward autumn, thoughts are turning to where to place the next series of boxes, and we have already chosen a number of suitable sites. Five more boxes will be in place within the next two months, ready for any prospecting Barn Owls.

Careful siting of a nest box can greatly increase the chances of it being used. This one is in an old hay barn in Co. Kerry. A bird has been visiting it in each of the two previous winters. Will it pair up and breed there next summer? – let's hope so (M.O'Clery).

From our experience throughout Kerry and Duhallow, nest boxes might be taken up at any time after their installation. At one site, where the original nest was found to be suddenly unsuitable (slates had blown off from over the nest, allowing rain to fall directly into it), we placed a nest box close by, and the birds moved in within about five weeks and raised two young that summer. In two cases this summer, boxes which had been in place for over three years were finally used as nests by the owls. One of these had no owl activity around it for the three years, the other had birds occasionally visiting the site in winter and spring, but disappearing each summer.

Brin McDonald from the Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project holds one of two chicks which hatched from a Duhallow nest box this summer. Brin and John Lusby installed the box last winter. (M.O'Clery).

So if you are planning to instal a Barn Owl nest box on your farm or premises, there are a few important points to bear in mind, which you can read about on this page HERE.

Good luck, and remember, it can be a few years before the owls move in.

3 August 2012

Barn Owls make the news

News presenter Seán Mac an tSíthigh interviewing John Lusby at a Barn Owl site in Co. Kerry on Tuesday (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Short news features on Barn Owls featured both on RTE 1 main evening News and TG4 news programmes over the past two days. They were filmed in Co. Kerry over the past few weeks with the main clips filmed on Tuesday last.

The TG4 clip was aired on 1st August and can be seen on this website page HERE.
Search for "NUACHT TG4 - Episode:213"

The RTE clip was shown on the RTE1 main 9 O'Clock news today, 2nd August, and can be seen on RTE Player on this website page HERE (available until 10th August 2012). Search for "9pm NEWS 2nd August".

2 August 2012

What moult can tell us

We've seen in an earlier post (HERE) how the moulted feathers of adult birds at a nest site indicated that they had failed to breed this year. Another post (HERE) showed how we were able to age a one year old female. 

In this case, a known nest was visited in Co. Kerry two weeks ago where, unfortunately, no breeding had taken place in the nest box this summer. However, after checking the roost site in a blocked chimney in the same room of an old barn, this beautiful male was caught and ringed.

Male Barn Owl, Co. Kerry, mid-July (M.O'Clery).

The extended left wing of the same bird (M.O'Clery).

The left wing showing the numbered primary feathers (M.O'Clery).

Barn Owls have 11 primary flight feathers on each wing. Number 11 is tiny and is usually hidden under feathers near the leading edge of the wing. Primary number 10 is the first main flight feather, primary 9 the second and so on. In this photo, we can clearly see that primary 6 is just starting to grow. The original primary 6 would have dropped out, initiating the growth of a new one at the base of the wing. These primaries are replaced one by one so that at no point is the owl's ability to fly and hunt impaired.

Barn Owls leave the nest with a full set of fresh feathers, which they retain for a full year. After that, the wing feathers are replaced one by one, a few weeks apart, for the rest of their lives, so this bird is in his third year. Most Barn Owls don't survive in the wild more than 3 or 4 years, so this one can be regarded as something of a veteran. Let's hope he survives the winter and gets to breed again next year.