With its distinctive “moon” face glowing white, a pale underside and light brown wings the Barn Owl is an unforgettable sight for anyone lucky enough to spot one. While widely distributed through the UK countryside, sadly it suffered serious declines in its numbers through the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Causes of this decline are thought to include habitat destruction, the poisoning of its prey (mainly small mammals such as voles) through our increased use of rodenticides, and the conversion of many of its potential nesting sites, barns and other agricultural buildings, into houses. To make matters worse for this emblematic owl, the recent perishingly cold winter and spring of 2012 had a serious impact.
Much of the semi-natural grassland area we look after at Teifi Marshes offers excellent hunting ground for Barn Owls, and happily the species has been well recorded at the reserve over recent years. We are installing a number of specially constructed nesting boxes, which will provide secure predator free breeding opportunities. A nest box was installed last year inside a suitable building, and two superb outdoor nesting boxes were made by one of our volunteers, Andy Innes. These are designed for placing on mature trees overlooking ideal hunting habitat.
However, they weigh 25kg more or less, so hefting them 7-10 metres odd up trees composed a bit of a problem. So the boxes sat in our workshop for around a year while we sucked our teeth. That’s where Matt de Martino, a local tree surgeon came in to help us, very kindly volunteering his high level climbing expertise. Under Matt’s supervision we installed the first tree box last week. Well actually he did it while we stood around, watched and provided a series of patiently received “helpful” suggests. The nesting box sits about 10 metres high, overlooking a good sized meadow area, which should be superb for hunting. Matt couldn’t have been more professional or helpful.