Barn Owl Webinar Q&A Follow Up

Thank you to everyone who joined us on March 24th 2021, for our very special Draw with Don Conroy webinar in support of the Laois Barn Owl Project. Learn more about our barn owl initiative here

We were inundated with questions via our Q&A facility but sadly couldn’t answer them all on the day. With this in mind, we collated the most frequently asked questions and Barry Nolan of the Laois Barn Owl Project has kindly answered all your questions below:  

Barn Owl Q&A

Barry: “Thanks for your question. I have been interested in barn owls and all types of birds of prey from a very young age. I find that reading books about birds gives me lots of information, you might like to read this online book ‘Golden Wings’ from Birdwatch Ireland about barn owls."

Barry: “The Laois Barn Owl Project began in June of 2020 where it was decided that a plan would be established to help monitor the number of barn owls in Laois and gain a better knowledge of their locations but also to try and support their struggling population numbers by providing these nest boxes. I have been interested in barn owls and other raptors from a young age and hope that this project will provide some valuable nest sites and information to aid the conservation of barn owls.”

Barry: “Barn Owls are a nocturnal species so therefore they only really appear when the sun goes down. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of them between dusk hours. However, Barn Owls are a reclusive species when it comes to interaction with people and tend to shy away but you often hear a Barn Owl before you see one as they have a distinctive loud shrieking call which is believed to be an origin for the old banshee ghost stories.”

Barry: “The average life span of a Barn owl is 4 years old however in a particular case a Barn Owl was known to reach 15 years of age.“

Barry: “Barn Owl chicks won’t begin to start flying until they have reached about 8 weeks old, by this stage their flight feathers are fully developed and they can begin to clumsily practise their flying capabilities however it will take them some trial and error until they become more prominent flyers.”

Barry: “Barn Owls like to live in areas of old farmland which is not disturbed by too much human activity but also provides a range of habitats that the Barn owl can forage in. Rough grassland in particular, as this can be home to plenty of small mammals like wood mice and pygmy shrews that the Barn Owl feeds on. Or other areas like woodland edges and quiet farmyards where they can hunt for other small mammals which may be feeding on the grain. They can be found nesting in old hollowed out tree cavities.” 

Barry: “The Barn owl is a nocturnal predator which means they hunt for food at night and for this they need to have good senses to locate their food. The heart-shaped face, also known as the facial disk helps to support this as it is able to collect and channel any sounds towards the ears to help tell it where potential prey could be. The placement of their ears, one slightly higher than the other, on opposite sides of the head means that they can very precisely locate and find their dinner even if they can’t see it with the help of their heart shaped face.“

Barry: “The last study carried out on the population of Barn Owls showed 145 known nest sites however they are very elusive animals, so the estimated population is 4-500 breeding pairs in Ireland which is quite low and as a result they have been red listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern in Ireland.” 

Barry: “The young Barn Owl becomes fully grown and reaches adulthood after about 10 weeks. At this point they have now gained a strong grasp on their flying skills and are indistinguishable from the parents in appearance. After around 14 weeks the young Barn Owl will disperse from the nest.”

Barry: “Typically Barn Owls lay 4-6 eggs in a clutch. Most birds wait for all eggs in a clutch to be laid before incubating them whereas the Barn Owls have an ‘asynchronous’ incubating process by which they are incubating an egg as soon as it is laid. As a result, there can be several days in age gaps between chicks being hatched. This takes a strain off food demand from the chicks initially, as they are staged.”

Barry: “Barn Owls do not have a homing instinct and usually once they leave the nest they do not return. They are sedentary which means once they find a suitable area to nest in they tend to keep within a short range of it.”

Barry: “In Ireland we have barn owls and long eared owls and sometimes we occasionally have short eared owls. Strangely enough snowy owls have also been found in Ireland too, but it is extremely rare.“

Own boxes Q&A

Barry: “The nest boxes have been placed throughout Laois and we even have some boxes on borders with Kildare, Offaly and Kilkenny. Some of the nest boxes can be found from Portarlington to Durrow, Mountmellick and Rathdowney plus many more. To date we have erected 67 Barn Owl boxes, but the plan is to reach 100.”

Barry: “We are very much in the starting stages of the project and reports and findings will direct further learning and action required. It is fantastic to see so many people in Laois and Ireland interested in barn owls.  We work with Birdwatch Ireland’s raptor specialist John Lusby and any barn owl chicks located in Laois are included for national monitoring.”

Barry: “The Barn Owl box should be placed at least 3 metres in height above the ground. It is important that the tree which the box is placed on is visible to the Barn Owl. This is because it is actually the hole in the box which generates their curiosity to investigate further. The trees which we select are usually large ancient trees which are in an open area and secluded from other trees.”

Barry: “The Barn Owl boxes we have are placed on a conservation emphasis in a focused area. So it is key that suitable locations are chosen via survey to have the best chance of success. Jackdaws can inhabit these nest boxes but if a barn owl is in the area and they wish to use the nest site, they can often oust the jackdaw. There are many factors which can deter a barn owl from nesting in an area. The website https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/  and https://www.dublinzoo.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Barn-Owl-information-and-conservation-advice-booklet-_For-Web.pdf  gives very good information on Barn Owls, some of these factors and also the ideal placement for a barn owl box.”