SECOND BROODS; an occasional bonus!!

It’s hard to know how the Barn Owls are aware in April that they will lay further eggs after the first lot of kids have left home in August.

Second broods don’t occur every year and usually depend on the food available so it’s the vole population that determines whether the owls will lay again.

Mother and chick

Normally; a female will do her annual wing feather moult when she’s inactive, sitting on eggs in April/May and I usually find the remains of the discarded feathers during my early inspection in May/June. Finding these feathers usually tells me that this pair won’t 2nd brood. However, if the female doesn’t moult, it can mean that they will 2nd brood but how do they know in April what the food supply will be in August??

It beats me but all I know is that after ringing 78 chicks from 30 pairs in the first round; about 2.5 chicks per pair which is low; I commenced another round of checking my early breeding birds and have found up to now 10 pairs on new eggs and they’re laying more eggs this time than they did in April with 47 eggs including 2 sevens and 3 sixes. This week I found the pair in the water tank had laid 6 eggs after their 2 chicks had fledged and it will be into November by the time they get ringed!! Not that I’ve got too many expectations as to how many of these late fledging chicks will survive. Winter mortality rates are high; young Barn Owls are taught to hunt by the parents soon after fledging and then have to go off to fend for themselves. While birds fledging in August have 3 month’s experience before the onset of winter, these young birds could  be into bad weather almost as soon as they fledge so I fear that very few will survive to breed next year.

Chris and mother owl

There’s still a number of other breeding boxes to check so there’s likely to be quite a few more; I’m not complaining but it’s gonna be a long season!!

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It’s been said that the glut of barn conversions into homes is one of the reasons for the demise of the Barn Owl. Traditionally, Barn Owls on farms often roosted in barns and nested in them if there was a suitable box or ledge.

In the halcyon days of the 40s and 50s before modern farming methods took hold of the countryside, there was lots of good habitat, trees and hedgerows; Barn Owls were on every farm and prey was so plentiful that they even nested communally in barns and lofts.

But the needs of a growing population required changes in farming including bigger fields, thousands of miles of hedgerows disappeared and a lot of the good habitat disappeared causing the crash in the Barn Owl population that we are now working hard to recover!

I would never criticise a farmer for allowing his disused barns to be converted for housing, some farmers are having a hard time and selling off a barn for conversion gives the business a good injection of cash. Planning regulations demand that all barn conversion proposals have to be surveyed to see if there’s signs of use by Barn Owls and Bats.

Bats can be a big problem as they’re more difficult to rehouse than Barn Owls which can  be lured away from a draughty old barn by the provision of a couple of cosy new boxes in the close vicinity of the barn.

Some time ago, I had a call from a man who had just received planning permission for a barn conversion on condition that he had a couple of boxes erected nearby. I met him at the premises and it was easy to see that Barn Owls had been roosting in the barn; there were owl pellets and whitewash beneath several perches. A problem was though that there are no suitable trees close by. My advice was that they plant 2 telephone poles on land behind the barn and once they were in place, then we would fix boxes to the poles.

Last Saturday, with Gordon and Neil, I went over there with lots of tools and we soon had the boxes in place. All we need now is for the Barn Owls to find the boxes and we’re in business!!



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The day didn’t start well. I went over to Kinoulton for 09:00 to ring some chicks in a garden in the village. It’s a big garden with half of it grown as a wild flower meadow; the box has only been up 6 months and in June, it had a pair of Barn Owls with 5 eggs. However, when arranging to visit over the phone, the householder told me he hadn’t seen any Barn Owl activity for some time and as this was a time when the adults should have been feeding chicks; this didn’t sound good. When I approached the box, a Stock Dove came out so I knew then that the box would be empty and it was, just some pellets  and broken egg shell. Possibly the adults had abandoned the box early on and Jackdaws had cleaned out any remaining eggs and chicks. This is always disappointing but something I’ve had to accept over the years. Possibly one of the adults gets killed on the road but it’s impossible to say for sure!!

Wendy and Sally!!

By 11:00 I was at Stamford Hall where I had a chick to ring in one of our boxes on the land behind the hall. Kate and Ruby were assisting again and we met David Stock who keeps an eye on the wildlife there and also my friend Wendy; the wizard of the spin from the gym and her daughter Sally. I’d visited this box 2 weeks ago to remove a jackdaw nest from under the chicks; there was only one chick surviving so I took the sticks out to give it some room. It was a nice male of good weight that will be flying in 2 weeks.

700th chick!!

From here it was on to a box at Keyworth where I’d found a female on 4 eggs at the end of June. I was aware that we now only needed 3 more chicks to reach the 700 for RUBOP so I had high hopes that there would be at least 3 chicks to ring. I opened the box to find 4 birds inside but soon realised that one was the mother so the 3rd chick I ringed was our 700th. Whoopee!!

Photos were taken and the birds returned to the box.

A 4 chick bonus!!

Later in the day, I went out to Owthorpe to check a box that we’d been unable to reach due to it being in the middle of a field of impenetrable oilseed rape. The farmer had told me that he’d seen Barn Owls around the box and a phone call had assured me that the rape was harvested and that I could drive out to the box.  There was a good chance that at this late date; any chicks raised in the box will have already fledged but I found 4 nice chicks inside which was a real bonus!!

Ruby was in the pink!!

Running totals are now 73 for the year and 704 all years total!!

700th chick!

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Most of our Barn Owls are fledged from our nest boxes; this is more convenient as we have a system of catching the adults in the box which aids monitoring.

We do realise though that there’s  a good population still using natural sites; borne out by the number of unringed adults that turn up breeding in our boxes every year

Over the years, we’ve found a few nest holes used regularly by Barn Owls but these are not always easy to check; they can be higher than our boxes and sometimes so deep that you cannot reach the chicks to ring them. We just register them as another breeding pair and leave them to it.

Earlier this year; whilst checking boxes, a Barn Owl flew from a hole in the next tree to our box and much lower. I know this hole well; 2 years ago it had nesting Little Owls and last year, a Tawny so 3 owl species in 3 years for this hole. When I looked in, I could see a female Barn Owl sitting quietly by 4 eggs and another visit 2 weeks ago showed her still there with smallish chicks. This hole differs from most as it runs inside a horizontal branch with the hole at the elbow where to branch turns upwards!

I went back today taking Kate for a rare day out and Ruby showing off her new hair-do!!

Looking down the hole I could see 2 chicks and took a photo before reaching down the hole and taking them out. Looking in again and there were 2 more and these were followed by another pair, surprisingly my first 6 brood of the year!!

They were all soon processed, photographed and returned to their hole.

So that’s 65 chicks ringed for the year and an all time total on 696; only 4 to go for our 700th chick!!


The Hole in the Tree Gang!!

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A DAY FULL OF SURPRISES. Mostly pleasant!!

With so many universities now offering courses in various types of Nature Conservation, I often receive emails from students asking if I can offer them the chance to do some conservation work at first hand; I always try to help if I can as the more people I can get involved in Barn Owl Conservation the better. Over the years I’ve taken out quite a few young people who’ve always enjoyed the experience and hopefully learned something that will help them in their education.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a student called Nova and this week, I invited her to come out with Chris and I as we polished off most of our chick ringing, mainly around the Vale of Belvoir.

We had an early start with Chris coming round for 08:00 and we were round at Nova’s house by 08:15. Knocking at her door was like opening a Barn Owl box; you don’t know what you’re going to get so it was a   pleasant surprise to meet a very nice redhead with a lovely smile who turned out to be an extremely pleasant young lady!!

Nova told us that she was soon to move to move to Brackenhurst College where she was to do a Conservation and Falconry Course. She’d handled captive bred Barn Owls before but not wild birds.

Nova meets her first wild Barn Owl!!

Our first call was a box at Bingham to see whether a female we’d found alone in a box 4 weeks ago had laid any eggs. She’d laid earlier in an adjacent box but the box had come down off the tree and the eggs had been broken.

She was still in the box and on 2 eggs and there’s a chance she might lay some more so we’ll be back in another 6 weeks to ring any chicks; it’s gonna be a long season!!

I checked the female out to ensure she was the same bird as last time and Nova had her first experience of a wild Barn Owl!!

Next, it was on to Whatton to ring chicks in one of our best boxes and there were 4 chicks to ring; one of the few 4 broods of the year.  We then went to Thoroton to check a new bird in a box occupied by a Barn Owl for the first time but this box that should by now have growing chicks was empty apart from Stock Dove eggs and all signs of the Barn Owls had gone. This does happen occasionally; possibly the female abandons the eggs and Jackdaws steal the eggs. However, there is another box nearby that had 4 dead chicks inside in mid-June and found a new female inside on 6 eggs so another surprise.

Two glamorous assistants!!

Needing coffee, we then headed to Sutton to see my friend Jo who always comes out with us when in her area. We had arranged to meet a farmer at a box nearby and the female and one chick were in the box. There was another box on this farm and this had a further 2 chicks in it which were soon ringed.

Jo thought that there might be Barn Owls in the box behind her house as she’d been hearing a lot of activity but her box was empty, another surprise.


To date, I’ve found 35 breeding pairs, ringed 59 chicks and could have another 25 which is unlikely and I might get 15 if I’m lucky considering the lateness of these broods. On a more exciting note; we only need another 10 chicks to reach our 700th chicks ringed for RUBOP!!

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I’ve said before that taking people out to see the Barn Owl chicks is just one of the pleasures of the job.

A week after taking David Hill, MD of our sponsor, Carbon Legacy to see his first Barn Owl chicks, we had other chicks to ring in boxes close to the Company’s Hickling Pastures headquarters.

Pete with his first owl chick!

David was keen for other staff members to share his experience so first today, we picked up their Technical Director, Pete Force who was very keen to see the owls.

We were soon at the site; fields behind a farm owned by a local businessman and he and his wife, together with their neighbour with small Grandson were soon assembled near the box.


Yound Alfie and Granddad Ian!

Here last year, after finding Barn Owls with small chicks and a large cache of voles in the box, we returned to ring chicks to find the box empty; something that does happen occasionally but it’s very disappointing, not only for us but also for the landowners.  Have you ever tried climbing a ladder with all your fingers crossed; well I did and was happy to find 3 well grown and handsome chicks inside.

These were ringed and photographs were taken; Pete, landowners and neighbours were all happy; as was I!!

A happy Pete was returned back to get some work done and we picked up the Company’s IT man Sean Burn who was also keen to see the owls. Again, it wasn’t far away  but this time along a track in open fields and the farmer was too busy getting his hay in to join us, evident by the tractors and trailers in the fields close by.

This was the first time this box had been used by Barn Owls but it’s only it’s second season so quite a quick uptake. Some boxes take years while others get owls straight away.

There were 2 chicks here and Sean was delighted to see them. They were soon ringed and back in the box and Sean returned to work; hopefully, he’ll post the photos on the Carbon Legacy website that he administrates.  See:–

So a successful trip with everyone happy, particularly our sponsors, Carbon Legacy; anyone for Solar Panels??

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20th July. It was time to ring the chicks in the box behind the Holy Cross Convent at Costock but it rained early on, drying up by 11:00 and Chris and I were a bit later than we’d arranged. Mary Julian and guests were awaiting our arrival, suitably dressed in waterproofs and wellingtons and we walked through the ancient orchard to the box.

As usual, with a crowd watching, I had the usual feelings of anticipation and dread; would there be any chicks in the box? When we’d checked in mid-June, there’d been 4 chicks and 3 of these had survived, looking great with wing feathers and face disk well developed. The youngest was still quite downy and looked like a very large dandelion  clock!!

The chicks were soon ringed; photographs taken and returned to their box.

Mary Julian also told us that she’d had a Long-eared Owl hanging around the orchard for a day; now a LEO is a very rare bird around here and Chris and I didn’t believe her and gave her a thorough interrogation. The Spanish Inquisition has nothing on us!! However she stuck to her guns and then emailed me a photograph of the bird and guess what; it was a Long-eared Owl. A great find!!

The Long-eared Owl

Mary Julian also told us that the convent was of the Anglican Church which surprised us; we didn’t know they had them; you learn something new everyday!!

The dandelion clock!!


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One of the pleasures of doing this work is to take other people to see Barn Owls up close; specially those who’ve contributed to the project.
David Hill, the MD of our sponsors, Carbon Legacy had been promised a trip out to see some Barn Owl chicks and last week we had some chicks to ring very close to the Company HQ at Hickling Pastures.
Neil was helping and we picked David up on the way to Upper Broughton where the box with the chicks is situated in fields behind a stables. The lady here had told me that the owls had been very active and had also invited some family and friends along to see the chicks so there was quite a group of us that walked out through the knee high grass to the box.
Opening the box, I was shocked to see Jackdaw sticks in the box but a closer inspection showed that these were thinly spaced and I could see the white down of Barn Owl chicks behind the sticks.
I pulled the sticks out and found 3 chicks; 2 well grown ones and a runt that was barely half the size of the other two.
Runts usually only survive if there’s a lot of food so I discussed with the lady and her Daughter about the possibility of providing some supplementary food which would benefit the whole family and might make a difference in the eventual survival of the runt. It was big enough to ring so I popped a ring on it’s leg anyway and hope we reconnect sometime in the future!
I’m pleased to say that David greatly enjoyed the experienced and hopefully, some of the Carbon Legacy staff will be able to accompany us on future expeditions!!
Later that evening, I’d arranged with Chris to ring the chicks in the box at Sutton Bonington.
On the way, I checked the box at Gotham to see if there was any sign of the pair there having a second brood. The box was empty and all the chicks I’d ringed there had fledged!
In Sutton Bonington, I knocked on the Farmer’s door but there was no one at home so I went down to the box hoping that the 3 chicks we’d found in the box in mid-June had survived. Thankfully, 2 were still there and Chris soon turned up with his friend Steve and young George who’d been with us on a similar occasion last year.
Photos were taken and chicks ringed and returned when the Farmer turned up with his 3 kids so the chicks were out again and more photos taken and it was great that they were all able to see the chicks close up!!
Altogether a very pleasant day!!

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No; we didn’t go out yesterday!!

Saturday 7th July.

Over the years, the highest number of boxes of the Broxtowe Barn Owl Project used by breeding Barn Owls was 8 in 2010. Out in the rain on Wednesday, we found 6 boxes with breeding birds and though one of these sadly had only dead chicks it still counts as a breeding box!
Going out this morning, the day before Gordon leaves for Peru in an expedition to find the ancestral home of Pudsey Bear, we had one last chance to break the record by finding 3 more breeding boxes.

A dead chuffed Farmer and Gordon

The Farmer at the first site was pleased to tell us he had Barn Owls in his box and on approach we could see 2 on top of the box. It was likely that these were full grown chicks which often loaf around on top of their boxes when old enough. As we got nearer, with the Farmer’s brown Labrador leading the way, the owls went into the box and I was able to get the blocker in before they left. However, there was another owl in the tree which flew off and we could tell from its flight that it was another youngster. We were happy though to ring the 2 chicks in the box.

It’s been a strange year, probably caused by the rain; some broods are also already flying and leaving the boxes while others are still on eggs. A female we found on Wednesday had laid one egg and from her weight was ready to lay many more.

At the next box we were told by the Farmer that he had owls and that the chicks were flying around the fields every evening. As we got close, a young bird left the box before I could get the blocker in and we saw 2 more fly from the tree so that was 3 we were unable to ring but another box of breeding owls making 8 to equal the record.

We checked a few other boxes without any luck until there was just one more box to check; one that had been last used in 2009 so there was a chance.

Chick from the 9th box!

We were drinking in the last chance saloon when we walked down to the box. It had been interfered with a couple of years before and we thought that young owls had been stolen so the door was screwed up. Gordon had to go back to the Wagen to get a screwdriver but I had a crafty feel round through the hole in the box and found a large owl chick. That gave BBOP their 9th breeding box, a new record and the project goes from strength to strength!!


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Wednesday 4th July.
I was hoping to get the Broxtowe Barn Owl Project boxes done this week before Gordon left for Peru; he said Wednesday would be a good day but the weather forecast was not good and I got to his house by 08:00 for an early start. It had already rained once that morning and arriving at the first field, I realised I should have worn my waterproof trousers. The grass was over 2 ft high and very wet and by the time we reached the box, our legs were soaked. To make matters worse, the box was empty so we walked back getting even wetter.
There was some respite at the next box; one of the few that day that we were able to drive up to. There were 3 nice chicks here and we hung around while the land owner fetched his wife so she could look at the owls.
We were also joined by David and Linda Parkin who’d we’d phoned and the local post lady who just happened to be delivering letters to the house.
Eventually, we escaped to look in other boxes and at Cossall, we were surprised and delighted to find a female and 2 big chicks in a box that hadn’t been used before. the female was very wet; she’d probably been hunting in the wet grass and I wrapped her in a towel to dry her off a bit and put a nice ring on her leg.  Unfortunately, the lane where we’d parked was very narrow and an oil tanker couldn’t get past the wagen so Gordon went back to move it while I finished ringing the owls. This meant that I had to carry the ladder and all the gear back to the road and I was on my knees by the time I got there. Also; with wet socks, my boots began to rub and I developed a nice big blister on my right heel.

The next box was round a wet cornfield but was occupied by a female who scarpered as we approached but left 2 nice chicks for us to ring. On to Beauvale Priory; the box was empty as usual apart from a Stock Dove but the man there told us he’d seen Barn Owls back in the old priory after the recent renovations. We had a look inside and found a few old pellets but no sign of heavy use.

At the next box, the farmer wouldn’t let us drive on his precious grass which meant another slog through long wet grass but there was another downpour and we waited for a while before deciding to move on. However, I realised we’d left the blocker and pole behind and retraced to pick it up. Meanwhile, the rain stopped so we had another strength sapping yomp through the grass. And yes, it was empty!!

Gordon cuddles a nice chick!!

The next had a box that had held Barn Owls for the last few years but this was empty as well; however, a 2nd box on the site had a female that we’d caught last year; she had one egg and was very heavy so there’s a good chance she’ll lay more eggs.

The Greasley Estate has been a good site for us for 2 years; 2 years ago, we had two pairs but this time just the one with 3 well grown chicks in the usual box and we found the female in another box that the farmer had said was only 100m from the road; by now I was limping heavily and it was nothing like 100m; it seemed miles but was worth it to find this beautifully marked bird.

One more box to do and another downpour. As we neared the end of our route, we decided to plod on and with the rain pouring down we got to the box to find nothing. The rain got even harder and we decided to shelter under the tree but a loud thunder clap had us hobbling back to the wagen; with Gordon carrying the metal ladder and me with a long metal pole in my hand it was no place to be caught out in a thunder storm.

So that was that; the end of a very tough day but with the consolation of ringing 4 broods of well grown Barn Owl chicks  and finding 3 adults.

Gordon wants to go out again on Friday but I’ve just seen the weather forecast, an Amber Rain warning so it’s gonna chuck it down again. Watch this space!!



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