Barn owl numbers affected by 2018’s hot summer

Last year’s long and hot summer affected the numbers of a stunning bird of prey recorded in Staffordshire in 2018.

Numbers of breeding pairs of barn owls in the county was slightly down in 2018 – with Staffordshire Barn Owl Action Group (BOAG) recording 63 pairs.

At the end of 2017, the group recorded 68 breeding pairs of barn owls and counted 207 chicks with an average brood size of 3.05 young. These were the best results since the group began monitoring in 2005.

BOAG are made up of a small group of volunteers affiliated with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and formed in 2001 after it was noted there were just 30 records of barn owls in total in Staffordshire.

The data from the group is submitted into the State of Barn Owls in the UK' report published by the Barn Owl Trust.

Helen Cottam, BOAG co-ordinator, said: “The summer of 2018 has proved to be a lean year for breeding barn owls.

“Heading into 2018, BOAG was fairly hopeful for the barn owl population and indeed this year we have recorded 63 breeding pairs of barn owls in the county. However, the summer months were dry and hot; the grass struggled to grow and dried up. Barn owls rely on a limited diet of small mammals consisting of field voles, wood mice and shrews which they forage for in rough, tussocky grassland habitat.

“This combined with known fluctuating vole numbers, when the vole population crashes in 3-4 year cycles and leads to a decline in young barn owls took its toll on adults raising their chicks.

“Although, barn owl numbers in Staffordshire have bounced back since 2013 and the population has seen a consistent improvement in numbers, the fortune of this well-loved farmland bird still very much hangs in the balance. It relies on our ability and consideration to manage our grassland to provide the opportunity for good foraging habitat and for us to find a space for nest box provisions. Without our support, we would indeed struggle to keep this beautiful bird from disappearing from our countryside.”

For more information about the group, or to help with surveys, email swtboag@staffs-wildlife.org.uk