Lockdown baby barn owls are a breeding success in Dorset

To the delight of wildlife enthusiasts, baby barn owls or owlets have been discovered across Dorset, following the success of a barn owl breeding scheme.

Over the last two years, 11 barn owl boxes have been installed in trees and barns on farms owned by Dorset Council in the hope that providing ideal nesting opportunities would help increase their numbers. Dorset Council owns 46 farms, spread over 2,600 hectares throughout Dorset including Purbeck.

Barn owl
Dorset Council

A barn owl with one of the barn owl boxes

Six owlets across four of the boxes

This spring while the country was in lockdown, wildlife across Dorset thrived, with less noise and disturbance from vehicles and people. In June 2020, as the restrictions eased, the barn owl boxes were checked by wildlife experts and they were thrilled to discover six owlets across four of the boxes.

While it is an offence to disturb a barn owl while it is nesting or to disturb a barn owl’s dependent young, these barn owl boxes were allowed to be checked and the birds ringed by volunteers under a British Trust for Ornithology ringing and disturbance license.

The information gathered from putting these specially designed rings on birds’ legs means more can be understood about them including their survival and the condition of the birds.

Float in a water trough to prevent owls from drowning
Dorset Council

Specially made water trough floats prevent owls from drowning – a common hazard for owls on a farm

Help to prevent owls from drowning

Alongside the installation of the barn owl boxes, Dorset Wildlife Trust volunteers have made water trough floats for the farms, to prevent owls from drowning when using the troughs to bathe or drink.

Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for highways, travel and environment, said:

“Our tenant farmers are delighted to have breeding barn owls on their farms. It is important that we look after the natural environment and encourage biodiversity where we can.”

Barn owls have a distinctive heart-shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white underparts. They are nocturnal and eat mice, voles, shrews and some larger mammals and small birds. So to encourage barn owls onto a farm, it’s best to keep areas of grass uncut to create a good habitat for the owl’s main food source, the vole.

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