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Stories from Inside a Barn Owl Nest
I’ve been following the story of a barn owl pair on my nestcams throughout this breeding season and in this post I plan to tell their story from the moment the male first found the nest site last autumn to the day the young chicks fledge – and beyond.
I plan to keep adding video clips as I get them. Below is the story so far:
It’s been a very wet week here in Yorkshire, but the barn owl parents have continued to hunt to feed their growing chicks. Take a look at this clip of the adult barn owl pausing outside the entrance to the nest to shake off its feather’s before resuming its hunt. This owl had only just delivered some food and here it takes a short breather before heading off to find more food.
I now have seven barn owl chicks in my nest box! Thanks to a wildlife rehabilitation centre near me I have successfully added three chicks to the nest. Thankfully the adults can’t count and have readily taken on the role of foster parents. Food is plentiful this year and so they are continuing to feed this huge clutch! Also the other chicks in the clutch are not competing for food, so these three have been readily accepted. If you are interested in how I do this, click here to read my post on fostering in the wild.
Watch all seven chicks in the following clip, all huddled together at the back of the nest box. Something has caught the eye of the one in the middle, watch it rotate it’s neck almost 360 degrees!
JUNE 19TH – COPING WITH A MINI-HEAT WAVE
Watch these barn owl chicks cope with the heat in their nest box by ‘gaping’. A bit like a dog panting to draw in more cool air, they reduce their body temperatures in this way. There’s been a heat wave here in the UK with daytime temperatures soaring up to 32 degrees here in Yorkshire. It must be even hotter inside the nest box!
JUNE 6TH – AND A TEMPERATURE CHANGE: BRINGING UP BABY WEATHER CHALLENGES
Bringing up baby owls has its challenges: this barn owl got absolutely soaked after getting caught in a downpour whilst out hunting for its chicks . Watch it trying to shake out its feathers in the following clip.
MAY 25TH: A GROWING FAMILY
All four barn owl chicks in my nest box are growing at an alarming rate! Every day they go from strength to strength. This is mainly thanks to an abundance of food this season. Watch the clip below to see the male dish out dinner to his hungry family! Two of the larger chicks barely fit under his wings, meanwhile the youngest chick at the back is lucky to get any and tries reaching for his sibling’s portion!
MAY: Bringing Up Baby: Daily Challenges
The barn owl on my nest cam gets a little stiff sitting on her four chicks for hours on end. Here she is stretching. First she balances on one leg, then the other – owl yoga?
It also gets a little mucky in the nest box. Below is a clip of the female bathing in a pool close to the nest box.
It’s not all hard work: Here the adults take a moment out from the daily challenges of parenting four chicks. Watch as they preen one another at the entrance to their nest box.The clip is a touching reminder of the deep bond between this pair.
MAY: CLUTCH IS REDUCED
Sadly the fifth chick doesn’t make it. The barn owl pair are left with a clutch of four – still plenty of work for the parents to raise four chicks.
Below is the moment in May when the fourth chick hatches:
Watch the female barn owl stand up after incubating her eggs, just visible is a fourth chick. There is quite a size difference between each chick, since they are born at least two days apart. Meaning this new chick is eight days younger than the first chick! She appears to need a good stretch after brooding for so long.
MAY 9TH: A CHICK
The first chick hatches! Watch for the moment the female stands up to see the tiny chick underneath. After roughly a month of incubation this is the moment! Notice the cache of dead mammals in front of the eggs. Barn owls cache food like this when there is a surplus natural food supply.
APRIL: THE BEST EGGS AT EASTER
The female barn owl lays her eggs over Easter – making these wild eggs the most special Easter eggs! She lays a total of five eggs over 10 days, laying roughly one every other day. The clip below shows her after the fifth and final egg of the clutch is laid.
And here she is after laying her fourth egg, just two days before:
The female will soon lay her first egg. Bonding between them is more important than ever, watch the clip below as they preen and groom one another.
This mutual preening is an essential part of bonding and will ensure that both birds work together to raise the chicks to come.
The barn owl pair I watch on my nest cams finally mate. The male brings a large vole in for the female and she accepts it, going off into a corner to eat it. Then he mates her.
MARCH 29TH: COURTSHIP
The barn owls form a strong bond which they will rely on once the eggs hatch. This bond is reinforced by grooming and preening one another. The following clip shows them inside the nest box. The male is on the right. It gently stretches over and nuzzles the female. Grooming is an important part of the process of bonding. The female is due to lay its first egg in the next week or two.
After all his hard work, finding and defending a suitable nest site, the male barn owl has at last attracted a female to my nest box. Now he has to convince her that this is a good place to nest. But she’s a little fussy. Watch her in the clip below as she inspects the box. She flies up to peck at every nook and cranny, checking it’s water tight and making sure no predators can get in. Will it be good enough for her? It’s like watching newly weds checking out the real estate!
JANUARY: DEFENDING A NEST SITE:
The barn owl might have found a suitable nest site, but he has some serious competition for it. Throughout January he spends a lot of time guarding the site and fighting off contenders. Watch the clip below to see him fend off a tawny owl twice its size!
The barn owl bows its head when it spots the tawny coming in, then goes into an impressive defense posture: head lowered, wings up and extended back. This pose is known as ‘manteling’: making a mantle of his wings to make himself look bigger. Like a superhero posturing or a bullfighter fanning out a cape. The two birds lock together in battle then in an instant the barn owl has won the spat. But the tawny is not deterred that easily and moments later it’s back for another go. Again the plucky barn owl stands its ground.
DECEMBER 2016: FINDING AND DEFENDING A NEST SITE
Watch the male barn owl in this clip as he sits at the entrance to this potential nest site, gently calling to attract a mate. All the while he watches the skies – then something catches his eye and he looks down, then up. He hops back in to the nest site momentarily, then -and you need to watch right to the end to catch it – all of a sudden a tawny owl swoops down and knocks him right off his perch.
The barn owl story begins in September 2016 with this male barn owl finding a site. He spends quite some time during the autumn months choosing a nest box and then trying to attract a female to accept it. He eventually chooses one of the nest boxes I made especially for this – and of course it is rigged with cameras. The front of the nest box consists of a reclaimed elm stump. I hoisted this stump up into a sycamore tree – as an artist I make my nest boxes attractive so that they can be backdrops to my paintings! The painting below features the same stump after it was also used as a nest box by barn owls in 2015:
Author: Robert E Fuller