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Owls have always facinated me. Whats not to like with a creature whose eyes occupy at least 70% of its skull volume (humans 5%) and whose skull is asymmetric. As birds go they are extreme in many ways. As a kid we used to have little owls on the farm. They used to sit upon fence posts in the hedge, and when surprised would sit absolutely still pretending not to be there. They were great things to watch.

At Waterhay we have resident breeding Tawney Owls and Barn Owls. We regularly see the Barn Owls, normally at dusk, and they can be very regular flying the same routes. There are 3 barn owl boxes here and generally once a year Simon from the West Wilts Ringers comes and takes a look in the boxes. The idea is to get an idea of if the boxes are being used, are owls breeding and how many young they may have. The job involves carrying a ladder between the boxes, putting a clip board over the entrance (to stop owls escaping), then opening the box. This year the first box had 3 young in which Simon bagged up and bought down to the ground for ringing. A small metal band is put around the birds leg with a unique sequence of letters and numbers. If the bird is recaptured or found it can be looked up. This system works as I found a dead Barn Owl a few years back, put its ring number into the website and with in a few days had a report about when and where it was ringed (which in this case was only 100 metres away and the year before). As Simon was present he allowed the kids to hold an owl chick. As the photo shows they have huge legs and feet, but as the photo doesn't show, they stink. The owl box is a mess of owl poo, pellets, bits of prey (including in this case a jackdaw carcass which is unusual), and fresh voles put by. In fact its so grim that the parents don't live there. They fly in with food and clear off, choosing to roost in another box or tree.

Box number 2 revealed lots of twigs and that jackdaws had moved in. Box 3 had 5 warm eggs plus a recently hatched chick (see picture below), so Simon will be back to visit this box in about 6 weeks.

So all in all a good crop of Barn Owls.

And one final word on the Little Owls - We dont have any here and I am not sure why. Also they have disappeared from Park Farm (where I grew up) Number nationally are dropping. Some people think its due to less Dor Beetles (very large dung beetles), Tawny Owls out completing them or Buzzards increasing and predating them - who knows?


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