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Barn Owl Update from Nicholas Watts

Barn Owl Bonanza
2014 has been a fantastic season for Barn Owls in South Lincolnshire, broods of 6 have been quite common and we have had several pairs rearing second broods. In 30 years of recording Barn Owl nests’ recording this has been by far the most successful year. On our farm alone we have had 13 pairs breeding and they have produced 63 young. In the parish of Deeping St Nicholas 100 Barn Owls have been reared, something that might never happen again. Is this also a British record, 100 Barn Owls reared in one parish in one year without any artificial food? Barn Owls feed mainly on Field Voles which have been in plentiful supply this year. The previous two years had been very poor seasons for the Field Voles. The main food of a Field Vole is young grass shoots but a very wet summer like we had in 2012 stops them growing successfully. Following the very wet summer we had a cold winter and a very cold spring which slowed the grass shoots down still further. By April 2013 the vole population was at an all-time low and so too was the Barn Owl population. The drier than average summer of 2013, the mild winter and nice summer weather of 2014 has been good weather for voles so they have bred very well. This has provided Barn Owls with a plentiful supply of food and any animal or bird that has a surplus of food should increase in numbers.
Barn Owl Update - 19th October
In early October we reported how well the Barn Owls had bred this year. Since then I am delighted to say I have discovered six more pairs with second broods. The recent poor weather brought these extra broods to my attention. We found one youngster on the ground suggesting that it was not getting enough food. He or she was not getting enough food because of all the wet and windy nights we have been getting in the past 10 days making it very difficult for the adults to find food. I put the owlet back in the box and his survival will now depend on how good the weather is for the next few weeks. It could be out of the box because it was trying to intercept the adult bringing food or it was trying to get out of the way of his brothers and sisters. In times of a food shortages Barn Owls are known to eat the youngest of the brood! It is a tough life out there and this is a well-known survival strategy to keep eating the youngest in the brood until there is only one left! The reason why we did not know about these second broods was because the adults had nested in another place within the same barn. They had moved out of their original nest site so that their first brood could grow up and leave on their own accord. With so many Voles around the parents set about a second brood before their youngsters had fledged. I had checked the original nest box and finding it empty thought that there was no second brood. If all these birds fledge that will bring the total number of Barn Owls reared on Vine House Farm to 80 and the total reared in the parish of Deeping St Nicholas to 114.