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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.