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Nest Box Wars Begin Again

UPDATE: Since witing this blog post I captured this incredible footage of a tawny owl and a barn owl fighting over a nest site. Watch how the barn owl stands its ground against a tawny twice its size!

If you thought this was alarming, follow this link to watch a viscous hour-long battle between a kestrel and a barn owl! Not for the faint hearted the battle involves a clash of talons and unnerving drama as the two birds fight it out. 

Back to the story:

I was surprised to see that battles over nest boxes in my garden have started again. It seems very soon as the breeding season is now over and they are not set to lay eggs until April. It’s my nest box cameras that have revealed all this action so I’m quite pleased that I haven’t turned them off! This week I spotted the pair of kestrels that I’ve following for eight years inspecting the box, but the next day two jackdaws were making themselves at home in the same spot and then that very night a tawny owl was also in examining its potential as a nesting site too. And then, just as I sat down to write this, I spotted the kestrel was back.

Tussles over nesting sites usually begin long before the breeding season kicks off but I’ve never seen them start this early. I usually notice the fights when the warring birds get very noisy at around Christmas time. This year I have had a nest cam trained on the activity, so perhaps they always do start early and I just never knew! I originally put the box up to attract the kestrel pair that feed in my garden every day and this spring I rigged the nest cam into the box so that I could watch them at the nest.

The tawny owls were determined to nest there. But the kestrels dived bombed the owls incessantly and screeched aggressively all the time. The tawny owls eventually gave up the site and moved to a nest box further down the valley. Both nestboxes were rigged with CCTV cameras and I watched as they raised their chicks there. Since the kestrels chicks fledged, the box was taken up immediately by stock doves who raised two chicks there. These stock doves went on to lay a further two eggs, but later abandoned them. I’ve been seeing the kestrel flying in and out of the box since September, so I started keeping a closer eye on the cameras. It was interesting to see the kestrel looking interested in the eggs, thinking that he needed to brood them. He even dug a  nest scrape for them.

But, the nest day jack daws were in the box prospecting the site for themselves. The jackdaws began tidying up in the box then came across the eggs. They picked up an egg each and flew off with them!

These kestrels will have to stay on guard if they want to keep the box to nest in next spring. That very night a tawny owl was giving it the once over. I heard it hooting outside my studio window and looked across at the live footage to see it peering into the nest box. If you look you can see its throat bulge as it hoots!

It will be interesting to see which pair of birds eventually wins the battle. I’m hoping it will be the kestrel and I’m glad to see him back again today – after all I did put this box up so that I can watch this kestrel pair closely! I’ve just finished this painting of the male from studies I made of the kestrel last year, but a kestrel chick would make a good model for next year’s paintings!

Have a look at how I produced this painting.


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