Distribution Britain 1,110 (-37.5%) Ireland 185 (-62.9%)
Numbers breeding: Britain 4,400 Ireland 750
European status: 140,000 (4% in Britain and Ireland =5)
British population trend: decline halted, now steady
How likely are you to record it? 32 squares (0.7%) Ranked 125=
The silent moth-like flight of the Barn Owl across grassy fields of open marshland is a sight to stir the heart. By 1900 numbers were already falling with shooting for trophies and because of the irrational fear that anything with talons and hooked bill would attack Pheasants. The birds were spreading north in Scotland but doing badly in the south later they recovered well until declines set in during the 1950s (possibly due to cold winters or pesticides ) but recovered again. In Ireland the birds certainly withdrew from peripheral areas and declined from 1950 or so. The birds are very difficult to survey but an early attempt in 1930 came up with a figure of 12,000 pairs for England and Wales. A Hawk and Owl Trust survey suggested 4,400 for Britain, 600-900 for Ireland and 40 in the Channel Islands during 1982-85. A further survey, run with the BTO, seems to show that the decline in Britain had halted by the late 1990s and the birds may be doing quite well in several areas. These typically have rough grassland and good nest sites. However there are possibly problems with rodenticides, road casualties and, if they happen, bad winters. A recent survey in Ireland (1996/97) suggested that the decline is not yet halted there only 115 nests found! The birds cannot survive well in cold, wet and windy weather. This is a species which may be helped by global warming. Glimmers of hope and lots of human help with nest boxes.
Berridge, D.J. 1997 Irish Birds: 6, 114.
Toms, M. 1999 BTO News: 223, 10-12.
The following Bird On! picture is available:
Barn Owl (Watercolour by Robert Gillmor)
The following Bird On! sketch is available:
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From The State of the Nations Birds
Copyright © 2000 by Chris Mead