Good Housekeeping...


 Ably assisted by the farmer, Dean inspects a Barn Owl box
and though uninhabited at present, takes the opportunity
to give it a good spring-clean!

This week was my first opportunity to accompany our conservation officer Dean on his periodic check on some of the nest boxes which are funded by donors and which local land owners have allowed us to erect on their properties.

There were three nest boxes sited on the first farm we visited but although all three were inhabited, in each case we were sorry to find pigeons in residence! However the farmer was certain that a pair of Barn Owls had been sighted on a neighbouring property and he kindly took us over and introduced us to the owners. 

We made a good search of the area and although we couldn’t find any natural nesting spots, it just so happened that we did have another very special task to perform this day, so our visit wasn’t wasted.  A short while ago, a benevolent lady who had made a significant donation asked if we would put some of the money she gave towards erecting a nest box with a plaque dedicated to a loved one.  On the farm we were visiting we found a most incredible, gnarled old tree with a vast trunk and plenty of shelter in an spot that would make the ideal location for placing a nest box, to which the helpful lady at the farm house unhesitatingly agreed.
Of course, its one thing finding a great place to site a nest box but it’s quite another actually getting it up there, though thankfully Dean is a master of the art.  Firstly, we attached a rope securely to the box, then Dean shimmied up the ladder, looped the rope over a sturdy branch, hoisted the nest box up to the right height and then secured it to the tree whilst I did the hard bit – standing on the ladder at the bottom, making sure it didn’t topple over!  It was a tricky job and took quite a while to fix the box, but once it was done we were extremely pleased with the result. It may be a couple of years before we have any nesting success there, as Barn Owls are notoriously territorial and it takes them a long while to adopt new nesting areas.  But we’ll keep an eye on it and with any luck, have good news to report in the not too distant future.
Continuing our round of nest-box checking we disappointingly found more evidence of pigeons and jackdaws in some boxes and one with a kestrel egg in it, which we left where it was although pretty sure had been abandoned.  Other boxes showed no sign of any recent nesting activity though again, our visits weren’t wasted as they provided the opportunity to clean out the boxes in preparation for hopefully more success next year.

At the end of our tour, which on this occasion had proved rather fruitless in terms of being able to identify that our owl nesting boxes were being used for their intended purpose, we approached the last one rather discouraged. But we were in for a surprise, in more ways than one. Dean immediately recognised signs of use and as he carefully rested the ladder up against the tree to make the inspection, a Tawny Owl popped its head over the lip and then vacated the premises in the direction of a nearby wood. Although I’m certainly no David Bailey, modern technology is a wonderful thing and a rapid-repeat button on the camera allowed me to catch the Tawny’s flight.  Regrettably there were no chicks to report, but the fact that the box was occupied was encouraging and we finally returned to the sanctuary tired but happy.

Inspection or interference with a nesting box is prohibited unless in possession of a current Disturbance Licence, issued by DEFRA. For more information, click here.)

Now you see ‘im...

... now you don’t! The annual inspection of this Tawny Owl box shows evidence
of use, though the tenant didn’t hang around to chat...

A Little Handful!
I mentioned last week that we had four Little Owl chicks brought in to the Sanctuary.  The circumstances surrounding their arrival were unusual as they were discovered in a tree that had been cut down!  (This is certainly not the first time this has happened though - in fact we reported a similar incident around this time last year). Fortunately all four chicks are fine and are currently doing very well.

These four Little Owls were discovered in a felled tree. They will stay with us
until ready for release and then hacked back to the wild in a few weeks time.