Thornham Owl Project Update

For the last six years, the Thornham Owl Project in East Anglia has conducted an annual survey of the number of owls and other birds of prey that have successfully bred in the approximately 160 nest boxes they have strategically placed around the Waveney Valley in North Suffolk and South Norfolk.

The project is primarily run on a voluntary basis and nest boxes are sponsored by members of the general public but in 2008, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary used some of the donations we received to further support the activity and can now bring you the findings of last year’s Thornham Owl Project survey, which proved very interesting.

The nest boxes were inhabited by a variety of birds, including Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Little Owls, Kestrels and Stock Doves. Eleven Barn Owls nested in the boxes and produced twenty-eight pullis - not bad you might think, but sadly rather down in number on the previous year. Two of the breeding birds in Waveney Valley had been ringed as chicks in 2007 and it was encouraging to discover that they had then set up their own territory further along the valley. The Gipping Valley disappointingly had only one pair using a nesting box, but they did produce four chicks that fledged successfully.

Tawny Owl figures were a little higher than the preceding year. Ten of the nest boxes were used, resulting in seventeen young. The Project has noted a trend for Tawny Owls to prefer nesting in the triangular shaped Barn Owl boxes, in more open situations.

2008 saw something of a success story for the Kestrels, who used twelve nesting boxes and produced a healthy thirty-four babies – this was nearly double the previous years figure! Kestrels generally choose to nest in an area where they have a wide field of view, but again there seems to have been some instance of them showing a preference for the Barn Owl boxes, even though these aren’t always ideally sited for this particular type of bird.

Back to 2009 and there are early indications that Barn Owl clutches will be down again this year. It does appear that in some cases the birds are pairing off but not actually laying any eggs. We can only keep hoping!


Although not Raptors, the statistics for Stock Doves have also proved to be a great ‘bi-product’ success story for the Project. They too seem to have a penchent for the barn owl boxes (so just as well there are quite a few) and in total, a staggering sixty-nine pullis were ringed from forty-four broods. Approximately a third of the world’s population of Stock Doves breed here in the British Isles, although there is a tendency then for some of them to move south for the winter - sadly, one of the birds ringed in the Waveney Valley was discovered near Bordeaux in Southern France having been shot!


Meanwhile here at the Sanctuary, things continue to bustle. Our drive to bring raptor education to more kids than ever this year is also keeping us on our toes, including a visit by 75 school youngsters to the Sanctuary last Tuesday! Our commitment is to inform young people about birds of prey, helping to promote an understanding of wild raptors & their needs and to raise an awareness of the importance of their conservation for the future and it’s really heartening to see younsters taking such an interest in raptors – long may it continue!