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10 December 2013

Raptor talk in Newmarket

Merlin (Photo: John Fox).

John Lusby, Raptor Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, will be giving a talk on Ireland's smallest falcon, the Merlin. It is to be held on Wednesday 18th December 2013 at the James O'Keeffe Building, Newmarket, Duhallow, at 19:00. Admission is free.

For information on the James O'Keeffe Building, and how to get there, visit this website HERE (opens a new window).

John has been conducting a ground-breaking survey on this elusive species, one of the rarest breeding raptors in Ireland.

24 November 2013

Winter roost

Barn Owl roosting in a garage, south Kerry, November 2013.

Barn Owls must forage much further for food in winter, and radio-tracking studies have shown that they can travel up to 7 km from their nest site in winter. This bird was recently frequenting the inside of a garage over a two week period, roosting on a pile of turf. It's unusual to have one visit such an open site, as they will normally try to hide away during the day.

(with thanks to Pat McDaid)

15 October 2013

Farm 'improvements'

Rich meadow before, pasture monoculture after, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

It was a bit of a shock to return to one of our Barn Owl sites in Co. Kerry to find the whole area had been 'improved'. Instead of several large, rich meadows of grasses and wildflowers, the entire area has been bulldozed and resown, hedgerows uprooted and one of the best areas for Barn Owls in the county was now reduced to a single enormous, relatively sterile pasture. 

Gone are the flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets, Skylarks will no longer breed, and all the butterflies and damselflies are no more. Unseen, in the miniature understory of the waist-deep meadow grasses, would have been many field mice and voles upon which Barn Owls, Kestrels and Long-eared Owls would have fed. All are now gone.

Demolished Barn Owl roost, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

What is more, the derelict house on the edge of this area which housed a roosting Barn Owl for many years (and several bats) has been demolished.

There is still an active Barn Owl nest site nearby, but like many other sites in the country, the pair failed to produce any young in summer 2013, due to the exceptionally cold spring. We will continue to monitor the nest site, but the pair may struggle to find enough food now that one of the largest areas of productive hunting for them has effectively been removed.

Cattle numbers in Ireland rose 4.4 percent and sheep by 9 percent in the past year (link), so pressure on marginal farmland is greater than ever, but as so often happens, wildlife comes out second best.

24 September 2013

Young Kestrels disperse

By now, all our Kestrel nests have been empty for some weeks, and this years' fledglings will have dispersed away from their nesting areas. Some will travel tens of kilometers, some much further. One adventurous Kestrel ringed in Co. Kerry in 2009 was found later that year in the north of France. They are also generally more widespread in autumn and winter as young birds wander in search of food, and eventually their own territories.

During a boat trip to look for unusual seabirds in August of this year, a young Kestrel was seen flying over the boat, traveling in a north easterly direction, from the open ocean toward the Blasket Islands, some 5 km distant. Where this bird had come from is anyone's guess, but it would be nice to think a French bird might have made it to Ireland!

Juvenile Kestrel, hunting along a beach near Castlegregory, Co. Kerry, 24th September 2013 (M. O'Clery)

If you get a close look at a Kestrel at this time of year it is possible to differentiate young birds from adult females (though they look very similar). Look for the frosty whitish tips to the outer wing feathers, much less pronounced on adult females. They can be clearly seen in this photo (Photo: Michael O'Clery).

6 September 2013

Irish Times article on Barn Owls and rodenticides

A recent article in the Irish Times, highlighting the serious effect of rat poisons on Barn Owls and other birds of prey. See the article HERE.

5 September 2013

Altitude not a problem for Barn Owls

In the early days of the national Barn Owl Survey in Ireland, it was thought that the owls were predominantly a lowland species, and initially at least, areas over 150m were not included in surveys. However, after 10km squares in Co. Kerry were surveyed in 2008 and 2009, it quickly became clear that altitude was not necessarily a limiting factor for Barn Owls after all. 

We now know, thanks to some of the earlier survey work, and the recent studies in Duhallow, that there are in fact many sites on higher ground. Here is one such example, discovered by survey work just a couple of days ago. It is one of the highest buildings on this hill in E. Kerry, reached by a long, narrow, long-forgotten lane. Inside were several pellets and a few Barn Owl feathers, signs that it had recently been used as a roost. It was at an altitude of 190 metres.

Cottage high on a hill, Co. Kerry, September 2013 (Photo: M.O'Clery).

In Duhallow we have recorded 9 sites that are over 200 metres altitude, and of these, 4 have been active nest sites. The highest nest was at 245 metres. The highest roost found to date is close to Ballydesmond, at 305 metres altitude. It seems that habitat in these higher areas is suitable for Barn Owls to hunt in, especially where rough grassland, forestry edge and plantations occur, so the true limiting factor seems to be the height at which old and derelict cottages occur. There are in fact very few building above the 300 metre contour anywhere in the study area, but, where there are suitable derelict buildings and good nearby habitat, regardless of altitude, Barn Owls can occur.

2 September 2013

Initial results of the 2013 Duhallow Barn Owl Survey

As field work for the 2013 Barn Owl breeding season winds down, the results of the monitoring of known nest sites makes for rather gloomy reading. All known sites in Duhallow were monitored and/or visited during the season, often many times. Full and detailed results will be posted here soon, but a summary of results to date are as follows: 

Nest productivity

Duhallow 2013 – Total 21 sites – 3 pairs nested – 6 chicks.
Average chicks per nest - 2.0.

By far the poorest breeding season to date, and the number of chicks produced per active nest in Duhallow (2.0) was a little below average. The corresponding figures for Duhallow in 2012 were:

Duhallow 2012 - Total 20 sites - 13 pairs nested - 20 chicks.
Average chicks per nest - 2.16.

A Duhallow Barn Owl site where birds nested in 2012, but not in 2013 (Photo: M.O'Clery).

A site in Kerry which shared several aspects with other Barn Owl sites around the country during the 2013 breeding season – a pair present, the nest site secure and undisturbed, but birds didn't nest. Courtship between the pair continued well into August before petering out late in the month (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Nest occupancy

Of the 21 Duhallow known nest sites, only one was apparently abandoned, with no activity detected there for at least a year. Of the 18 sites in Duhallow where breeding didn't take place, pairs of owls were known to be still present at 10, at least one owl was still present at 6, and recent activity was detected at 1 other.

The high number of sites still occupied by Barn Owls is encouraging despite the poor breeding season.

A male and female Barn Owl caught and ringed at another site in Kerry. Although the signs were good all through the spring, they failed to breed (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project
The Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project is funded by IRD Duhallow through the Leader Programme 2007 - 2013.

Barn Owl monitoring in Kerry
Kerry County Council and the Heritage Council have once again given support to allow this study to continue.

31 August 2013

Barn Owl chick makes it

John Lusby holds the Barn Owl chick after ringing, Co. Kerry, 2nd August 2013 (Photo: Jill Crosher).

Ringing and measuring the Barn Owl chick, Co. Kerry, 2nd August 2013 (Photo: Jill Crosher).

At last, some good news form one of our Barn Owl nests in Co. Kerry, one of the few which produced young this summer. The single chick was healthy and well when we ringed, weighed and measured it on 2nd August. A check on the site two days ago revealed that the chick is doing well and has almost fledged. It will probably be leaving the nest site in the very near future.

29 August 2013

Another traditional Barn Owl site fails

A visit by the team in early August. two adults were seen at the house (M.O'Clery).

Barn Owls have bred here for many years (M.O'Clery).

This site in Duhallow has had Barn Owls nesting for many years, according to the locals who witnessed the young in each of the last number of summers. An adult pair was detected here in early August and although no young were seen it was decided to do a watch at dusk to see what was going on. Unfortunately, at dusk two days ago, both adults emerged, one from the chimney and one from the roof space, and without calling headed off to hunt. They didn't return within an hour and there was no snoring calls heard that would reveal the presence of young. Another failed site. Like so many other sites this year adults are still present and, if they survive the winter, will no doubt try again next year.

26 August 2013

A wander through the castle

Have a look at this extraordinary site in Co. Kerry, a traditional Barn Owl site where they have nested for many years at the top of the highest tower.

Barn Owl site in an abandoned castle, Co. Kerry, August 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

24 August 2013

A view inside a secure Barn Owl nest

A final check was made on one site in Duhallow where breeding hadn't taken place this summer, just in case of any late nesting attempts. A camera was sent up into the nest area in the small attic space to see what was going on. 

The old cottage has had breeding owls in both of the previous seasons, since its discovery in 2011. They had two young in each of those years (M.O'Clery).

Barn Owl nest site, Duhallow, 22nd August 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

Unfortunately, no chicks. Although you can't see it in the video, one of the adults is actually tucked away at the very back of the attic space. Access is through a single missing slate on the roof, and you can see how dry, secluded and secure this nest site is. At least the adults are still present here and hopefully they will survive the winter to breed again next summer.

23 August 2013

A single feather reveals a new Barn Owl site

Derelict cottage in East Kerry (M.O'Clery).

Have a look at the video below of this derelict cottage in east Kerry, taken yesterday…

This single white feather raised suspicions and led to the discovery of a probable Barn Owl nest site. The signs of an occupied Barn Owl site can be subtle enough, but although it might be missed on the outside, the signs of the presence of Barn Owls were easily visible inside.

A single barn owl feather on the chimney led to the discovery (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Inside, below the chimney, there were many Barn Owl feathers and pellets. We attached a camera to a long extendable tripod and looked closer at the chimney. Near the top of the chimney shaft is a small alcove, and behind it you can just see an opening into an attic space – an absolutely ideal and secure nest site, with Barn Owl feathers and pellets much in evidence. We will investigate this new site further in the coming days. 

21 August 2013

Another site falls silent

There are one or two late Barn Owl nests still active, and some sites, such as in the post below, have very young chicks which may not fledge until autumn. This has prompted us to re-check sites where pairs were present this summer, but didn't breed. It is hoped that some might attempt to raise young even this late in the year.

Barn Owl site in Co. Kerry. Nesting has been successful at this site in each of the last three years, but the pair did not breed this year (Photo: M.O'Clery).

At the site above, an old mansion in Co. Kerry, a pair has been very active of late, calling and being very attentive toward each other. However a watch of the site this evening showed that they have finally given up on breeding for this year. There was no calling between the birds and no obvious courtship behaviour. The two just preened and went their separate ways to hunt for the night.

15 August 2013

Late Barn Owl chicks raise hopes

The nest site in the wall cavity, centre of picture (Photo: M.O'Clery).

The discovery of at least two very late Barn Owl chicks at a site in Co. Kerry has raised hopes that other pairs which have seemingly given up on breeding for this year might yet be attempting to nest.

Two very young chicks were heard a few days ago at the nest site in a cavity in a wall (centre of photo), and estimated to be only 10 to 15 days old. This would mean that they might not be able to fly until early October, and might not leave the nest until late October. This is a great gamble for the adult birds. If the autumn is wet and stormy, they will be unable to provide food for the growing chicks, but if it remains mild and largely dry, they might just manage to raise the young successfully. 

The pair present at this site were displaying vigorously all through spring (see, eg, this post HERE), but by late June and early July, they were largely silent, there were no sounds of chicks, and the breeding attempt seemed to have fizzled out for the year. Perhaps the  exceptional weather in July allowed them to hunt well enough to try again.

There are several Barn Owl sites in Duhallow at which the adults have seemingly given up on breeding for this season so we will make a point of returning to each of those again for a careful check to make sure we detect any more which might be breeding this late. 

The appearance of chicks late in the year is not without precedent in Ireland and well developed young have been found at a nest in Wexford in December, though as ever, the weather will play the most important role in the outcome of any late nests.

8 August 2013

Barn Owl of a certain age

Below, some video of an adult Barn Owl, trapped for ringing at a site in Duhallow. A pair was present,  and had laid eggs, though these were subsequently abandoned. John Lusby, Raptor Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, after ringing the bird, describes how the owl moults (replaces) wing feathers and how you can work out the age of the bird. In this case, it is a bird in its third year.

Three year old Barn Owl, Duhallow, August 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

6 August 2013

Empty nests

 We have been finding that many Barn Owl nests all over Duhallow, and elsewhere in the country have failed this summer, mainly due to the exceptionally cold spring. Here are two such sites, first a quarry in Duhallow, and below, an unusual nest in ivy roots inside a barn in Kerry.

The nest entrance in the limestone quarry face can be seen in the centre of the photo. The entrance hole leads to a chamber about a metre long and 40cm wide (photographed under licence: M.O'Clery).

Inside the nest chamber, only moulted Barn Owl feathers and pellets. Fresh signs of adults, but no chicks (photographed under licence: M.O'Clery).

An unusual nest site in the tangled roots of ivy which have grown down through a long-abandoned barn. Adult Barn Owls were present here, but we found four eggs, abandoned. The female was able to lay the eggs sometime in the spring but then didn't get sufficient food from the male to allow her to incubate them, thus had to leave to hunt for herself. The eggs would have chilled and failed to hatch (photographed under licence: M.O'Clery).

5 August 2013

Tree + Tree = Three

Two tree nests in Duhallow were visited recently, one proved to be empty, the other had three young chicks present. These were removed gently from the nest for ringing, weighing and measuring before being carefully returned. The eldest is about 25 days old, the youngest about a week younger. It has proved to be one of the few productive nests found anywhere in Duhallow this season.

Two tree Barn Owl nests in Duhallow, with three chicks at one (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

This site also produced three young last year. You can see the video on this page HERE.

4 August 2013

New Long-eared Owl site discovered

During the course of Barn Owl survey work in Duhallow on Sunday night last, a distinctive distant call was tracked down to a patch of woodland almost a kilometre distant. It was a rare sound indeed this summer – a calling Long-eared Owl chick. From the volume, it sounds fully grown, and it was quite mobile, moving from tree to tree. 

The calls of a young Long-eared Owl chick could be heard almost a kilometre away (M.O'Clery).

Only a handful of Long-eared Owl sites have produced young this year (see this post HERE for details), so it is great to see that some at least have succeeded in raising some young.

A beautiful portrait of a well grown Long-eared Owl chick, Co. Kerry (Alan Landers).

2 August 2013

More Barn Owl ringing, more empty nests

Another six Barn Owl nest sites were visited today in Duhallow and east Kerry. The results were again very poor, with no chicks found. A summary of the sites is as follows:

• Old cottage in NE Kerry – 4 abandoned eggs, no adults present.
• Nest box in barn in NE Kerry – 2 adults present, 4 abandoned eggs in nest box.
• Nest in water tank in derelict farmhouse – 1 adult present nearby, no chicks.
• Derelict mansion, E kerry – 2 adults present, breeding status uncertain, needs further investigation.
• Nest box in derelict house, E Kerry – Adult male present, no chicks.
• Nest in ivy roots in barn in central Kerry – 1 adult present, no chicks.

This is turning out to be a dreadfully poor breeding season for Barn Owls. 5 chicks from a total of 17 nest sites visited  in the past 2 days – by far the lowest breeding numbers recorded since survey work began on the species in 2006. There are still a number of other sites to be visited, so hopefully some at least will have produced young.

This handsome adult male Barn Owl was caught and ringed at a nest site in E Kerry today. He was alone at the nest box in which three young fledged last year (Photo: M.O'Clery).

This poor year for Barn Owls is reflected in recent findings from the UK which is also experiencing a crash in breeding numbers. See this article in the Guardian Newspaper from yesterday HERE...

Barn Owl Ringing update - many pairs did not breed

A long and intense day of ringing at the Duhallow Barn Owl sites was tough going, not least because of the appalling weather, but also because most sites had no chicks. of 12 nest sites visited, only 2 had chicks, 5 chicks in total. A summary of the sites visited is shown below. The stark realisation is that it looks like they are having their worst breeding season to date. 

• Tree nest near Newmarket – no signs at the nest, though birds have been seen nearby recently.
• Old cottage, NW Duhallow – Recent signs of owls, no chicks.
• Large derelict farmhouse, NW Duhallow – no signs, nest abandoned.
• Two story derelict farmhouse, NW Duhallow – 2 adults present, young possibly present, needs further investigation.
• Cottage near Newmarket, 2 adults present, 4 abandoned eggs found, no chicks.
• Tree nest near Newmarket – Three young.
• Old cottage near Rathmore – Recent signs of owls, no chicks.
• Quarry, Duhallow – at least 1 adult present, no chicks.
• Disused Cottage near Ballydesmond – recent signs of owls present at nest, no chicks.
• Derleict cottage near Ballydesmond – female present, no chicks.
• Nest box near Ballydesmond – Adult pair present, no chicks.
• Nest box near Ballydesmond – 2 chicks.

More on these sites soon.

2 of a brood of 3 chicks ringed today at a tree nest site in Duhallow today. The eldest chick on the left shows a considerable age difference to its youngest sibling, perhaps as much as 10-12 days. The lateness of this brood is also noteworthy – these youngsters won't be leaving the nest until late September, perhaps even October. (Photographed under licence: M.O'Clery).

30 July 2013

ABI group attend Barn Owl ringing

The Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) group from Castleisland attended the ringing of two Barn Owl chicks at a site in Co. Kerry recently. The ABI group built a series of nest boxes for our Barn Owl and Kestrel projects (you can see that post on this page HERE).

 Members of ABI Ireland, with the landowners and their families, at the Barn Owl ringing, July 2013 (M.O'Clery).

Brin McDonald (Duhallow Birdwtching Club) and Maura Walsh (CEO at IRD Duhallow) with one of the younger enthusiasts, at the Barn Owl ringing, July 2013 (M.O'Clery).

Chimney nest box chicks ringed

The Barn Owl chicks which featured in recent posts were ringed this week. They were about 50 days old, not quite fully grown. They would be due to fledge around the second week of August and as such, are the earliest Barn Owl chicks in our study area so far this season

Barn Owl chicks ringed at the chimney nest box site in Co. Kerry, July 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery and J.Lusby).

The previous recent posts which featured this site can be seen on this page HERE, and HERE

29 July 2013

Recent Barn Owl ringing results

The following resulted form two days of ringing of Barn Owl chicks this week at known nest sites in Kerry.
Nest box site, Dingle Peninsula – No birds present.
Nest box site, Dingle Peninsula – 1 chick ringed.
Old farmhouse, Dingle Peninsula – 1 adult female ringed. No chicks.
Derelict cottage near Castlemaine – 1 of 3 chicks ringed.
Derelict church near Castlemaine – No birds present.
Quarry, east Kerry – 1 adult present. No chicks
Chimney nest box, east Kerry – 2 chicks ringed.
Castle, Kerry – 2 chicks ringed.
Old cottage near Castleisland – 1 adult present. No chicks
Old farm buildings near Castleisland – 2 adults present, no chicks.

So, ten sites which so far have produced eight chicks. Well below average. Worryingly, two traditional sites seemingly had no birds present.

Quarry site in Kerry where Barn Owls are present in a small tunnel in the rock face. An adult was seen here, but it is possible that young were undetected further along the rock shaft, so a watch at dusk is still needed here to determine if there is any young here (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Two chicks fledged from this site last year, but this year only one of the adults were present and no chicks. The nest was in the chimney, though the adult was roosting in the tiny roofspace on the left of the building, accessed through a single missing slate (Photo: M.O'Clery).

28 July 2013

Barn Owl chick, or fluffy toy?

Barn Owl chick, Co. Kerry, 24th July 2013 (M.O'Clery).

If cuteness was an Olympic sport, this Barn Owl chick would win gold...

Barn Owl chick, Co. Kerry, 24th July 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

This chick is about 20 days old, just old enough to regulate its own body temperature. The nest was in an old cottage in east Kerry, and is one of the few broods of three we have seen so far this summer.

27 July 2013

The Barn Owl Survey in action

This video shows an examination of a known Barn Owl site in Co. Kerry. There have been signs of the birds presence in this old farmhouse each year since the site was discovered in 2008, but the owls have not yet bred here. Two nest boxes have been placed inside the house, the site is very isolated and rarely visited, and there is ideal hunting habitat nearby, so it is absolutely perfect for Barn Owls.

Every known site in Duhallow and Kerry is checked by us at least once each season. It can take a number of years for a site to be occupied, in some case four years or more, and at others, seemingly suitable sites have never been occupied, but in one notable case, Barn Owls occupied and nested in an Owl nest box within just a few weeks of its installation.

Let's have a look and see what's going on here...

26 July 2013

How long does a Barn Owl live?

Two year old female Barn Owl, Co. Kerry, 24th July 2013 (M.O'Clery).

Barn Owls are generally short lived birds, and since ringing of Barn Owls began in Ireland in 2008 only a handful of birds ever caught and ringed have been three or more years old. This is a two year old, a female, which was trapped at the same site as last year, an old mansion in Kerry in July 2012 (you can see an account of that on this page HERE)

Barn Owls which are kept in captivity regularly live to be 15 or even 20 years old, but they obviously don't face the same hazards as a bird in the wild. In Ireland, our studies show that at least half of all birds which fledge from the nest will not make it to their first birthday, and it is rare indeed to find a five year old bird. There are a number of sites which we know have been occupied by Barn Owls for 20 or more years, but this does not mean it is the same individual owls in residence, rather there has been a whole series of replacements over the years.

21 July 2013

Barn Owl attacked by Sparrowhawk

While conducting an evening watch on a Barn Owl nest box site on Friday a most unusual event was witnessed by Michael O'Clery...

The scene of the action – the nest box on the chimney, the telegraph pole and the grey roof of the barn behind (Photo: M.O'Clery).

"From my position, hidden by the field edge, I could watch one of our nest boxes, on top of a chimney in Co. Kerry. As dusk fell, an adult Barn Owl flew out of its roost in an adjacent barn and landed on a telegraph pole near the nest box. One of the young Barn Owls saw the adult land and came to the entrance of the nest box and started 'snoring' loudly for food. The adult looked toward the box and then started to stare at the rough grass below its high perch.

"Judging by the intensity of the attention, I thought I might see the adult Barn Owl make a kill on some small mammal below, however another movement behind the owl caught my attention. A female Sparrowhawk flew low and fast over the roof of the barn and flew straight at the Barn Owl.

"The owl was oblivious to the approaching danger from behind, but at the very last second turned, saw the Sparrowhawk, and virtually leapt into the air to meet the Sparrowhawk, talons to talons, before flying downward, low and fast into the nearest copse of trees. The Sparrowhawk which had to stall mid-flight, then twisted to make a 180 degree turn to pursue the owl with astonishing acceleration. The initial loss of speed of the Sparrowhawk however seemed to just allow the owl time to make good its escape and the Sparrowhawk pursued the owl to the edge of the treeline before gliding up an over. It seems the owl had a very narrow escape."

Female Sparrowhawk (Photo: Ben Phalin).

Female Sparrowhawk with a freshly killed Magpie (Photo: David J. Coley).

Barn Owls have few predators, and on the continent, Goshawks are the only raptors which have been regularly documented as killing Barn Owls in the wild. However in two studies on mortality of Barn Owls in England, of nearly 300 documented deaths of Barn Owls, three were attributed to Buzzards, and one to a Sparrowhawk.

A female Sparrowhawk will regularly take relatively large prey such as Woodpigeon and Magpie. The weight of an adult Woodpigeon is about 400 grammes, whereas Barn Owls typically weigh in at about 280 to 310 grammes, so it would seem that Barn Owls might well occasionally feature on the Sparrowhawk menu.

20 July 2013

Two Barn Owl chicks in one of our nest boxes

Birds of prey in general are suffering one of their worst breeding years yet. We saw in an earlier post how Long-eared Owls suffered an almost complete collapse of breeding attempts with only five chicks produced from 61 sites nationwide. Reports are that Peregrine falcons too have suffered breeding failure with for example only one nest of a sample 19 producing young in Kerry/Cork (and the chicks were robbed from that one). Kestrels failed to breed at most sites, though the ones which did breed fared well.

Barn Owls nest later in the year so we are only now beginning to see how their season is developing and unfortunately, it is not good. Quite a few sites checked so far have been abandoned, and adults are not breeding at others. Nests with chicks are proving the exception this year.

At least here we have a bit of good news – two healthy looking chicks in one of our nest boxes yesterday while checking our Duhallow sites. They are about three weeks old, and none of the flight feathers are yet visible. They should be at the nest for another month and a half, so will be fledging in late August or early September. Working backwards, if they are 21 days old, they must have hatched around the last day of June, which means the eggs were laid around the last days of May, about 4 weeks later than the average date of around 7th May.

Two Barn Owl chicks at a nest box in Duhallow, 19th July 2013 (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

17 July 2013

Barn Owl chicks in chimney nest box

Nest box on top of the chimney of an abandoned cottage, Kerry, 17th July 2013, and (inset) a close-up of the box (M.O'Clery).

At last, some good news on Barn Owls. There are at least two chicks in one of our nest boxes in central Kerry. Have a look and listen to the video clip and you can hear the distinctive 'snoring' call of two or more chicks from inside the box.

From the volume of the calls and the brief glimpses of one of the birds taking a peep out of the box, they look to be about 40 to 45 days old, or about two-thirds of the way to fledging.

This site had three young last year and featured on the 'Living the Wildlife' documentary by Colin Stafford Johnston which aired on RTE last April. Thankfully, it has proven the exception so far this season, with most Barn Owl sites visited in our survey so far either  abandoned, or the adults have not bred.

We will be ringing the chicks at this site shortly, so check back for more soon.

In the first part of the clip, the snoring starts quietly as dusk falls (accompanied by singing Whitethroats in the background, formerly a rare summer visitor to Kerry, but making a strong comeback this summer).

In the second part of the clip, later in the evening, keep an eye on the entrance to the box as the snoring intensifies when one of the young spots an adult on a nearby telegraph pole and comes close to the entrance in its eagerness to get some food (filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

16 July 2013

Barn Owls using chimneys

Around half of all known Barn Owl nest sites in Ireland are in chimneys, in disused or derelict houses, castles and mansions. Barn Owls can climb very well, and with the help of strong legs and wings they can scale a vertical stone surface relatively easily. 

Barn Owls often nest in derelict buildings and those types of buildings are a natural source of curiosity to Barn Owls and those trying to survey for Barn Owls. One of the more difficult nests to detect are in buildings where the Owls are actually nesting down the chimney. 

This is one such example and it was only a phone call from a curious neighbour which directed attention to the cottage. The owners had died some years before, but the neighbours were keeping it tidy and unknown to them, Barn Owls had moved in to the central chimney, nesting on top of the sticks of an old Jackdaws nest which had blocked the shaft.

An apparently occupied cottage, but with new tenants nesting in the chimney (Filmed under licence: M.O'Clery).

Here we can see the Barn Owl about eight feet (2.5m) down the chimney shaft. The slow, sideways swaying, partially opened wings and low hissing sound is the threat posture, to make the owl look bigger and more imposing to any potential predator, or Barn Owl surveyor.

15 July 2013

Long-eared Owls suffer widespread breeding failure

As the Duhallow Raptor survey for Long-eared Owls winds down for this season, the results are stark. There has been a widespread breeding failure this year with only two chicks fledging from a single nest, from 14 known nest sites.

These results have been replicated elsewhere in the country with the breakdown roughly as follow:

Duhallow 14 sites, 2 chicks at 1 site.
Clare 1 site, no chicks
Connemara 2 sites, no chicks (though 3 eggs were laid in 1)
Dublin 4 sites, 1 chick.
Galway 5 sites, no chicks
Kerry (outside Duhallow) 5 sites, 1 chick.
Mayo 2 sites, no chicks
West Offaly 19 sites, 1 chick.

TOTAL 62 sites, with only 5 chicks at 4 sites.

Empty Long-eared Owl nest.
A perfect breeding site (an old Hooded Crow nest), high in a conifer, in perfect habitat, where a pair of Long-eared Owls have been displaying and holding territory all spring, only for the birds to eventually fall silent and cease their breeding attempt, a pattern repeated at many sites in Duhallow and all over the country (Photo: M.O'Clery).

The cause for the widespread failures are largely unknown, though it may be that the unusually cold spring was a major factor.