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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.