British barn owls still in trouble

This video from England says about itself:

20 March 2015

Barn Owls, Tyto alba. In slow motion.

Near Hundred End Lancashire, March 2015.

With a Panasonic Lumix GH4

From BirdLife:

22 Feb 2017

British Barn Owls still struggling to adapt to modern life

The most recent nest site survey indicates that the factors that wiped out 70% of Barn Owls in the 20th century still impact the beloved species today

By Alex Dale

One of the most widespread birds of prey in the world, the Common Barn Owl Tyto alba has proven so successful at adapting to life alongside humans that even its very name reflects the symbiotic relationship that has been shared by farmers and this charismatic bird over the course of thousands of years.

Common Barn Owls prefer to roost and nest in sheltered areas that protect them from the elements, and when settlers first began building on Britain’s countryside, crafty barn owls quickly swooped on the opportunity, swapping rock crevices and holes in trees for comfy crevices in the attics of barns and churches. In return, Barn Owls would repay their unwitting landlords by preying on the mice and voles that ventured onto their land.

However by the mid-20th Century, changes to the dynamic of this human-bird relationship rapidly sent British Barn Owl numbers into a tailspin. According to the Barn Owl Trust – a UK-based charity who works to protect the species – Barn Owls in the country declined by as much as 70% between 1932 and 1985.

The Barn Owl declined by 70% during the 20th Century, as intensive farming practices took their toll on the much-loved countryside bird

These declines are largely the result of improvements in the way farmers cultivate their land. The rise of the combine harvester, which is extremely efficient at harvesting grain, and the development of sealed grain silos, means grain is no longer stored in enclosures on farmland, meaning less food for rodents during the long, cold winters, and subsequently less prey for owls.

Today’s farmers are also able to cultivate land that was previously beyond their tools’ means, allowing them to plough right to the edges, resulting in the loss of the Barn Owl’s favoured hunting habitat: rough grassland verges.

The 20th Century has also brought with it other dangers that have taken their toll: road fatalities, potent rat poisons and the loss of nesting spots as traditional barns are pulled down and replaced with less inviting buildings.

There is evidence that numbers of barn owls in the UK have stabilised since the mid-1990s, but clearly these factors are still impacting the species today. While numbers of the UK population of this reclusive, nocturnal species are poorly understood, we can determine the health of the country’s Barn Owl population through the Barn Owl Trust’s annual nest site survey, in which 32 independent local groups from across the country – from Cornwall to Norfolk to Northern Island – pool together to visit nest sites and record the brood size of successful breeding pairs.

The results tell the story of another poor year overall for the Barn Owl – the number of nesting pairs in 2016 was down 6% on the all-year average, and the number of young in the nest was down 7%. While disappointing, the numbers are at least an improvement on 2013 and 2015, two exceptionally poor years where cold weather saw nesting occupancies down 70% and 25% against the all-year average.

Low productivity is clearly becoming a trend, which the Barn Owl Trust attributes to a lack of available prey, and an overall low population density exacerbated by a lack of juvenile barn owls to replace the adults.

The report, which can be read here, recommends several measures to help sustain Barn Owl numbers, including habitat improvement, the installation of low-flight prevention screens around trunk roads to avoid collisions, and replacing existing nest boxes to reduce chick mortality by ensuring the replacements are no less than 460mm deep.

Snowy owls and food

This is a 2016 snowy owl video.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Snowy Owls Aren’t Starving—How Two Canadian Farmers Helped Bust a Birding Myth

Every winter it’s a mystery how many Snowy Owls will come south to thrill bird watchers. But chances are when they do, you may hear someone say these magnificent birds are starving, having fled low food supplies up north. But happily, new research using data collected by two extremely hardy Saskatchewan farmers suggests otherwise. Find out what’s really happening with Snowy Owls.

Great horned owl at Georgia, USA nest

This video from Georgia in the USA says about itself:

5 February 2017

A Great Horned Owl returned this weekend to check on the empty nest in Savannah, GA. While it is still possible that the owls could nest here (if they haven’t chosen a location already), it would be an unusually late start date compared to previous years. The Great Horned Owl pair began laying eggs on January 1 in 2015 and January 23 in 2016.

Clip edited for length.

This camera livestream is a partnership between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Skidaway Audubon.

You can watch this cam here.

Helping baby birds, be careful

This video from the USA says about itself:

13 April 2008

Great horned owlets at nest

Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, Berkeley, California

From BirdLife:

Resist the call of the cute

By Shaun Hurrell, 6 Feb 2017

What should you do when you see a baby bird on the ground? It is hard to resist the urge to rescue. Often people intervene when in fact most chicks should be left alone. Our Spring Alive project1) is raising awareness of this issue with children and adults throughout Europe, Central Asia and Africa, with this season’s theme of “Don’t take chicks with you”.

Alone, helpless, small, cold, clumsy and fluffy… We see a flightless chick on the ground in our garden and many of us go weak at the knees. How did it get here? Where are its parents? Is it orphaned? Has it fallen from a nest? Is it injured? It is cheeping, maybe it is calling for help? We are struck by an overpowering urge: I must rescue it… I must do something…

Stop. Think. Is interfering the best thing to do in this situation? While small actions can, and do, make a big difference in conservation, sometimes our willingness to step in can be detrimental – especially when our judgement is clouded by “the cute factor”. We might have the best of intentions, but taking a chick with you can be a badthing, it is messing with nature, and can even make things worse for the chick.

Nature is harsh sometimes. One thing to remember is that young birds naturally face tough odds, with only thirty per cent of songbirds surviving their first year – but this is a natural strategy in which the strongest survive and there is enough resources in the environment for them. And hand-rearing a bird is not easy. You might think it could lead to an amazing story of care, bonding and devotion – and in very rare cases it does – but you could effectively (often illegally) be taking a wild bird as a “pet”, and if you eventually re-release it into the wild, the bird has not learned essential survival skills from its parents.

So what should I do? This is to provide a basic summary, please see the links below for more information and for further questions please ask your local animal rehabilitation organisation.

First you must identify whether the chick is visibly injured. It might be clumsy, or even unable to walk if it is very young, but that is perfectly natural. In very rare cases, it could be bleeding or has other visible trauma, in which case the best thing to do is call a local wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian.

Conservation organisations, including BirdLife Partners around the world are often called by people with an injured animal or an “abandoned” chick, but in most cases these are calls which should have gone elsewhere, and take up vital time that conservationists would otherwise be spending on things like protecting a habitat for many species. You don’t call a dentist if your child has bit their tongue.

Let’s face it, the chick that is found is unlikely to be Critically Endangered; and even if it is a threatened species, and conservationists would love to help, they have different skills.

Know the difference between a “hatchling”, “nestling” and a “fledgling”. If the bird is uninjured, then it may well be a fledgling, meaning it has naturally left the nest (fledged) and has short adult-like feathers but is still being fed by its parents. It might be sitting on the ground or hopping about, but can’t quite fly. However, its parents are probably nearby, collecting food or keeping a watchful eye where you cannot see them. Removing a fledgling from the wild reduces its chances of survival.

So it may be best to back away… Your presence might even be stopping the parents from feeding the chick. If the fledgling is in a dangerous place however, like in a road or about to be pounced on by a pet cat, as a last resort you can move the chick a few metres out of harm’s way, but so it is still in hearing distance of parents. Keep cats in the house until fledglings are flying.

If the bird is a hatchling (eyes not yet open) or nestling (eyes open, some downy feathers and/or tube-like sheaths), and it is healthy (sometimes parents deliberately eject chicks that are ill or dying so they can concentrate on feeding the remaining chicks) then, if you can see an obvious nest that it came from, you should put it back. If not, or if the nest has fallen, you should construct a makeshift nest by hanging a small porous basket filled with dry grass in a tree and placing the chick in there. The parents should then return to care for it. If they don’t return within two hours, or cannot quickly construct a makeshift nest, you should call a local expert wildlife rehabilitator and follow their advice.

“If I pick it up, the parents will smell me and abandon the chick”– for more myths and questions, see below:

·         Helping birds – the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)

·         Baby birds out of the nest – Mass Audubon

·         “Orphaned baby birds” – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

·         Help a baby bird that has fallen out of a nest – WikiHow

A swift response

Things are different for one migratory species featured in the Spring Alive project, however. The Common Swift Apus apus needs a high platform from which to take off, so if you see this species on the ground it might not be injured – it may just be stranded. So in this case the best thing to do is pick it up and simply let it fly out of a high window. In this case, a local bird organisation can help you assess the situation. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica chicks also fly straight from the nest, so should never be found on the ground.

In most cases however, people misidentify a fledgling as a nestling in need of support, or will take away a nestling when they could be placed in their original nest, or a makeshift one. It’s such a common mistake that the Spring Alive teams across Eurasia and Africa will be spreading these messages to teachers, pupils, children and parents, as well as continuing to teach about bird migration and conservation.

We know it is difficult, but you can see that in most cases it is important that you must resist those cute calls.

For more information please visit

Follow Spring Alive on Facebook,  YouTube and Flickr!

Northern hawk owl video

This is a northern hawk owl video from the Netherlands. This species is a rare vagrant there (eg, in the 2013-2014 winter in Zwolle city).

Eurasian pygmy owl video

This is an Eurasian pygmy owl video from the Netherlands; where this species is a rare vagrant.

I was privileged to see this small owl in Finland.

Short-eared owl on video

This video says about itself:

Short-eared Owl

27 December 2016

Video courtesy of Larry R. Arbanas/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.