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Plight of the U.k.s Barn Owl

Updated on August 2, 2015

Barn owl

Familiar wild birds {1800's}
Familiar wild birds {1800's}

Courtesy of Ashley Stow

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Putting aside what man is capable of, there is little to make me feel uneasy during my forays as darkness cloaks the countryside. However, there are one or two notable exceptions. One one such foray I was following a woodland path in poor light shed by a decresent moon. There was no wind and from within the silence of the trees rose a smell of earth made stronger by the earlier rain fall. My canine companion was rooting around in the undergrowth some distance away presumably on the scent of a rabbit. the only other sound that I could detect was the dripping water from the trees.

Then without warning, came a high pitched shriek which was amplified by the general silence of the night. This inhuman screech is not a pleasant sound to endure at such close quarters, particularly when so unexpected. Once my heart rate had returned to near normal I realised the culprit was barn owl which was patrolling its territory and was probably flying over the narrow woodland to reach the open grassland near by. nevertheless it was a heart stopping experience. I suppose I should count my self as being fortunate to have had this close encounter, for this beautiful bird is much rarer now than it once was.

I have heard the barn owl described as a ghostly custodian of the countryside, an apt description of this beautiful and mysterious bird. To see one quartering a field in search of prey is more than being fortunate , it is to be privileged. Barn Owl {Tyto alba} numbers have declined by over 70% during the last few decades, a fact which is derived from two national surveys which were carried out over a long period of time.

The reasons for this decline relate to the rapid changes man has made to how he lives and works in the countryside. Changes that have been to rapid for the barn owl to adjust too. This species above all others lives near to man and his dwellings. Indeed this bird was named after the building that suited its needs in the past However, most of the old barns have been demolished, or as is the current fad, converted into residential dwellings, leaving the birds with nowhere to live. Rough meadow land is now by and large confined to memory, leaving them with nowhere to hunt.

The biggest single threat to the barn owl these days is traffic. It is known to account for nearly 60% of all known deaths. Roadside verges are some of the remaining strongholds for rough grassland-ideal for hunting, with fatal consequences for the hunter. They are likely to be hit by traffic, often being blinded by headlights or simply sucked into the slipstream of high speed traffic.

This beautiful bird is under threat in the U.K.


The Plight Goes On---

In the UK. one of the bird's strongest allies is the Barn Owl Trust, a charity set up to help the species. From humble beginnings in 1998, the trust is now respected and approached by professional advise by the R.S.P.B. and otherconservation bodies.

Surveying habitat, erecting purpose built nest boxes and caring for injured birds are bread and butter for the Trust. It also advises developers and builders on how to make modern agricultural buildings " barn owl friendly " through published articles which have now been adopted nationally.

It is now estimated that around 5,000 pairs breed in Britain this is well down on the estimated 12,000 pairs that enhanced the countryside during the 1930s. However, the good news, according to latest surveys, is that the decline seems to have halted. ready made nest boxes and the cooperation of the farming community by leaving field margins uncultivated, this along with set aside, has gone along way to help. Barn owls are easily recognised, primarily by their general light colouring. They grow to a length of 33-35cm, with the male weighing around 280-315 grams the female slightly more 310-350 grams. However, deep, soft feathering makes the bird appear larger than it really is.

The barn owl appears on Schedule one of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 [as amended] which means that the birds are fully protected by the law. It is even an offence to take pictures of the of the bird at its nest site without a special license. In the U.K. the bird is still a major conservation concern but with all the right measures in place it is hoped that this bird will start to regain its former numbers over the next two decades.


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi , nice to meet you Coverley1 . They certainly are beautiful birds. the countryside would be a poorer place without them.Thanks for taking the time to read.

    • coverley1 profile image

      coverley1 8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Hi D.A.L..I thought I'd look you up and picked the Barn Owl for my first read. Very informative piece and well written. It is a beautiful & cute looking bird you have over there in the UK. I'm glad its population seems to be on the increase...

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thanks for your comment Bard, man has made his impact all over the world and unfortunately these impacts are detrimental to wild life in many cases. At least, it seems we are now trying do something about it and reverse these trends.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      They live here on Tenerife too but like all the predatory birds here have suffered a decline. I often wish we could go back in time!