A pair of barn owl chicks have successfully fledged from a nest box on the Hadlow Estate, illustrating the value of the Estate’s long-term conservation measures.
A second box had signs that young birds had very recently fledged – underlining the importance of creating interconnected habitats and nesting opportunities.
Farming practices, including overwinter grassland and permanent pasture, support the small mammals that make up the birds’ diet and multiple nest boxes for nesting and roosting create an owl-friendly environment right across the Estate. Owls also hunt across Hadlow’s arable fields and orchards.
The chicks, which have been ringed by British Trust for Ornithology’s licensed expert Phil Cannings, are the first brood on the farm for some years.
The mother bird had been ringed near the Hadlow Estate two years ago, demonstrating that if the conditions are right, barn owls will stay in the same area and breed.
Kate Teacher from the Hadlow Estate, who has been working with the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership for some time on the owl box project, said success had been achieved as a result of providing the right combination of factors to support barn owls.
“It was a very special moment when Phil confirmed we had two barn owl chicks in the box this year after checks in June indicated a nesting pair of barn owls with young owlets,” she said. “I’d been hoping for good news and to see the pair of owlets – a female and a male – was a treat. Phil’s expertise, as a senior ecologist at the BTO, licensed to ring chicks, was inspiring. We learnt a lot about barn owl health, habits and how we can support this captivating bird.
“As farmers, what is great for us to know is that our landscape management is doing the right things to support barn owls and other wildlife too,” she added. “Areas of set-aside and meadow grazing provide the right habitat for voles, on which the barn owls depend.”
She said the mother owl was not in the nest box with the chicks when they visited to check on the birds. “I had a strong feeling she would be roosting not very far away,” Kate added. “A check of another box nearby proved the hunch to be correct.
“Phil Cannings found, by checking the serial number on the ring, that he had ringed the mother bird as a young owl about three miles away a couple of years ago. It is hugely positive to see that she has stayed here to have her chicks.”
Phil, who needs two separate licences to carry out his work on barn owls, as a schedule one protected species, said barn owls would have historically nested in trees, but the absence in the UK of older trees, with crevices in which to nest, had made them more reliant on farm buildings to build their nests.
He said: “Barn owls suffered very heavily with Dutch Elm disease when the big, old trees with crevices and holes, disappeared. They have always used barns for nesting, but with more recent changes to farm buildings, many of which have been converted to other uses, they lost potential nesting sites there as well.”
Nest boxes, like those put up on the Hadlow Estate, working with the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, fill the gap and when the landscape supports the small mammals like mice and voles that the owls feed on, they will often successfully breed.
He said the two owlets found at Hadlow would almost certainly now be on the wing and ready to seek out territory of their own. Around 90% of barn owls move only 12 to 20 km from the nest where they hatched.
Phil said: “The box where the chicks were ringed is on the edge of one of the apple orchards. There are grass rides and they have got arable crops with headlands which are a reservoir for voles and mice. It has everything a barn owl needs.”