The Barn Owls at Lorton Meadows - Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ has been written to hopefully answer any questions you have about the Barn Owls at Lorton Meadows. We hope we've covered everything. If we haven't, let us know by sending us a comment on the webcam page.   To go back to the main Barn Owl Webcam page click here

QUESTION

ANSWER

Have you given the adult Barn Owls names? The previous pair were given names (Bob & Brenda), but the current pair don’t have names.
How can I tell which is which? Adult barn owls are very difficult to tell apart. The female is usually larger than the male and should be slightly darker coloured around the face. Adults are approx. 25cm tall (head to feet) and 33-35cm from top of head to tip of tail.
Why are they rubbing faces? During courtship the pair will mutually preen each other and rub cheeks, as well as making soft chittering noises and hissing.
What is all that stuff on the floor? They are pellets. The barn owls regurgitate the bits of their meals that they can't digest (bones, fur, etc) into a pellet about the size of mans thumb. 
Why are they eating the pellets?

The female is actually "shredding" the pellets to make a nice soft base for the eggs. The eggs are laid onto whatever surface is available (ie wood, loft insulation, stone) dependant on the nest site.

How many eggs will they have? How long until they hatch? Barn owls usually lay 5 to 6 eggs. The female starts incubating the eggs as soon as the first egg is laid, and lays an egg every 2-3 days.The eggs hatch after 31-32 days incubation, and will hatch in the order they were laid (ie 2-3 day intervals).
The female seems to be leaving the
egg(s) , is this normal?
The female will normally incubate the eggs as soon as they are laid,with the male only taking over duties for very short periods of time. However, if she is underweight and/or suffering extreme food shortage then she might abandon the eggs.
How long will the female sit on the eggs/chicks? The female will continue sitting on the young chicks until the eldest is about 3 weeks old. That means she will have been sitting on the nest for a total of nine weeks, and will have relied on her mate for food during all this time.
How many chicks will survive?

The number of chicks that survive is directly related to the amount of prey their parents can catch. Things that can effect this are quality of the habitat, how much prey there is in the area, the weather (see later question) and how experienced the individual parents are.

When will the chicks leave the nest? Chicks usually start flying at 9-10 weeks and will start to leave the nest for good when they are about 11-12 weeks. All will probably be gone by 14 wks.
What do they eat? Voles, mice and shrews are the most popular prey and are usually swallowed whole. In the UK amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds, bats, rabbits and carrion are not usually eaten by barn owls and earth worms are not eaten at all.
Where is the webcam at Lorton Meadows? The camera is attached to a barn owl nest box, situated in an old converted barn which is now our visitor centre at Lorton Meadows Conservation Centre.
Where is Lorton Meadows? You can find directions and further information about this beautiful nature reserve by clicking on Lorton Meadows Reserve & Conservation Centre.
How long have the Barn Owls been nesting at Lorton Meadows? The first barn owl box was constructed in 2004, when the barn was restored/rebuilt and became the Conservation Centre. From 2005 solitary barn owls used the box as a roost, almost year round. Then on 14th March 2010, the male (who had been roosting here for approximately 2 years) was joined by a female. They successfully raised 3 owlets later that summer. Since then there have been nesting barn owls, but not every year – we’re really pleased to have a pair again this year.
I've seen them mating a lot. Why? As time goes on the male will start bringing the female food and she will spend less and less time hunting. Mating usually occurs each time the male brings the female food prior to egg laying.
Why have you set this webcam up? The nest box and camera, set up by Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows are part of a larger project based on the reserve to watch nesting birds at Lorton Meadows.
Are the Barn Owls affected by the weather? Yes. It's easier for the barn owls to catch small mammals in fair weather, so we are hoping for good weather for the next couple of months! Barn owl feathers are not very waterproof - so they stuggle to catch prey in bad weather.
When do they hunt? Dusk and dawn are the main times for hunting, although they sometimes hunt during the day or at night. It really depends on the individual barn owl.
Will Barn Owls come back to the same nestbox year after year? Yes - we hope they will. Once they have a territory, Barn Owls tend to use the same nest site year after year.
Where else will Barn Owls nest?

Nests can be in tree hollows, rock crevices, derelict buildings, barns and nestboxes.

How many Barn Owls are in the UK? There are estimated to be 4,000 pairs of barn owls in the UK
What noises do Barn Owls make? They hiss, screech & shriek. During courtship they also make soft chittering noises as well as hissing. They don't hoot (that's Tawny Owls).
How can I find out about nestbox cameras? Please contact our nestbox camera supplier Jason Fathers at Wildlife Windows Ltd telephone 01202 461969
I believe we may have a Barn Owl nest in a structure we are about to demolish.

All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law:
In UK by WACA (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and in Europe as a whole by The EU Birds Directive (1979). Some birds on Schedule 1 of WACA carry very heavy penalties for disturbance etc.

The demolition of the building will need to wait until the chicks have fledged, this shouldn't be long.

Destroying this nest / young now is a prosecutable offence resulting in a criminal offence.

We would suggest contacting a local ringer who can check the site to assess when the birds will fledge. The end of August should be safe but the nest would still need checking. The barn owl chicks may use the nest site for around a week after they fledge. Also, if a new building is going up it could be good to incorporate a box for the birds.

  Answers supplied by bird of prey expert, Jason Fathers at Wildlife Windows Ltd, Samantha Dallimore, Community Conservation Officer, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Barn Owl Trust.

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