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Nest Cameras | Spring 2019 | Barn Owl, Tawny Owl & Kestrel Egg Laying Update

Nest Cameras | Spring 2019 | Barn Owl, Tawny Owl & Kestrel Egg Laying Update

Read on to get the latest news from my nest cameras this year


It’s Easter and I’m currently watching 12 of the most beautiful eggs. These are not the chocolate variety, but wild bird eggs that I am monitoring live on screens in my gallery. Each spring I look forward to the first eggs being laid. This year I’ve scored a hat trick with kestrels, barn owls and tawny owls all laying under the scrutiny of my cameras that record 24 hours a day. But, it hasn’t been easy. There is always some sort of drama as the three species vie for the top nesting sites.

overcoming dyslexia



Nest Box Wars

All the species vie for the best nesting sites


The tawny owls are the heavyweights of the bunch and like to monopolize as many nest boxes as possible. The male calls for the female to check out each of his favourite sites around the turn of the New Year, long before the others have even started to think about breeding. Meanwhile the barn owls are hugely indecisive over the options of a barn owl tower on the end of my workshop or a huge elm stump that I’ve converted further down the valley. The male barn owl leads the house hunt, calling her into each box with a screech. He scratches vigorously at the floor of the box to make a ‘feature’ nest scrape, as if dressing a room in a show home. He usually goes over the top with his ‘staging’, by re-digging the scrape night after night. After a few sessions what should be a shallow indent looks deep enough to accommodate an eagle owl! The female, who is already unsure, looks dismayed with his over-exuberance, and starts to pull shredded pellets and wood chips back into the vast chasm to make a hollow more fit for her delicate form. By March, the barn owls seemed to settle for ‘Elm Stump’, the kestrels for ‘Sycamore Stump’ and the tawny owls for ‘Beech Stump’.

Click above to play video

Kestrel v Barn Owl

Both species vie for the same nest box

But then, I switched the monitors on one morning to find a barn owl in the kestrel’s nest. The female kestrel had spotted the intruder too. She perched on the rim of the nest entrance glaring in at the owl and screeching loudly. The male kestrel, alerted by his mate’s calls, flew in to assist and sat on top of the box looking agitated. The female kestrel entered the box – a dangerous move, as both owl and kestrel are equipped with super-sharp talons. Barn owls have larger feet and a longer reach. Yet, while kestrels are smaller they make up for this deficit with a determined terrier-like attitude. After a scuffle, the barn owl was evicted. These clashes continued for several days, but the kestrel successfully defended the nest and ejected the barn owl each time.


Click above to play video

Near Tragedy for the Pair of Tawny Owls

All’s not well for the Tawny Owls


I couldn’t wait for the tawny owls to lay eggs. But, the female tawny owl looked unwell. She lay down; her rounded body flattened and limp on the nest floor, her head facing out of the nest entrance. I’ve never seen this strange behaviour before. Her health deteriorated: she was flat out for prolonged periods of time. At first, I thought she was egg bound as I had seen her trying to lay eggs but to no avail. The male kept looking into the nest with a quizzical expression, as if wondering where their clutch was. After she had laid motionless for four hours, I feared the worst. It was a sad moment as I had followed this pair for years. Not only had she raised many of her own chicks over the years, I had used her as a surrogate mother to dozens of wild foundling tawny owlets too. I rang my wife to tell her that she had died.

But that night, miraculously she stood up unsteadily. The following day, she wasn’t in the nest box. So I went off looking for her, expecting to find her on the ground, too weak to fly. Eventually I located her in ‘Ash Stump,’ where I could see her clearly. She appeared to be suffering from Frounce, a yeast infection of the digestive tract. This debilitating condition is transmitted by eating infected birds and initially manifests itself by white spots around the mouth or crop. She opened and closed her beak as if gasping for air, which you would expect from a throat riddled with disease. I had now abandoned any hope of the tawny owls breeding and was doubtful whether the female would survive at all.

Meanwhile, the barn owls were still flitting between boxes. It was anyone’s guess if they’d lay in a box that had cameras in. The kestrels, after battling so hard to win ownership of ‘Sycamore Stump’, seemed disenchanted with it now that it was theirs. Now they were spending most of their time in a valley in the distance.


Click above to play video

Good news from the Barn Owl Box

First Eggs laid by the Barn Owls


But, just as I was feeling everything was going wrong. My Easter egg plans started to fall into place, with the news that the barn owl had laid its first egg. I had noticed a change in the female’s behaviour four days earlier. She had begun to sit for long periods in the nest scrape as if practicing brooding. Finally, she began heaving, her tail lifted, as though her contractions were underway. Sure enough, when she stood up she revealed a perfect pure white egg. She immediately sat back down on the egg and began to incubate it. Barn owls incubate their eggs from the moment the first is laid. The barn owl went on to lay a further three eggs at two or three day intervals.

Click above to play video

Male Kestrel increasingly frustrated by Female’s indecision

Will they finally settle on my nest box?


Meanwhile, the male kestrel was getting increasingly frustrated that his mate wouldn’t take up his favoured nest box in my back garden. He decided a new tactic to lure her in was needed. First he caught a so-called ‘common lizard’, not that these colourful reptiles are particularly common on the Yorkshire Wolds, I might add. He stood at the nest entrance looking erect and proud, the long sinuous body of the juicy lizard hanging tantalizingly from his mouth. And with impressive multi-tasking ability, he was still able to excitedly call his mate to come and collect this gift of food. He hoped she would be dazzled by his charms and join him inside the box. But she simply ripped the lizard from his beak and flew off into the distance.

I later saw him back inside the nest, creating the perfect nest scrape, having a practice brood session from several different angles and even fanning out his tail to preen each feather in turn as if to prove that this nest was the perfect size. But no joy: he needed to come up with a Plan B. This time he caught a field mouse and sat enticingly on a perch I’d put up some three metres away from the box. The female flew in to whisk the rodent from his beak, but cleverly this time he set off in the direction of the nest like a torpedo. To get the food, she’d have to follow him. But she played dumb, pretending to be unsure where he had gone. It took him several further offerings to get her to follow him. Finally he entered the nest and performed a bizarrely comical full body bobbing routine, which is evidently irresistible to female kestrels. It worked and just a few days later the female had laid in his box of choice. It was fascinating to see how she pushed each egg out, flicking her tail up and down and pumping her wings for assistance! Kestrels usually lay 3 to 7 reddish-brown eggs every two days. This female has pushed out 5 eggs already so it’ll be interesting to see how many she goes on to lay.

click to play video above

Meanwhile in Beech Stump, I was amazed to see that not only had the female tawny owl made a full recovery, but she had actually laid a large white egg too! She stood up tall, dramatically fluffed out her feathers and majestically sat down to brood her precious egg. She faced the camera, held her eyes closed and pointed her beak skyward. I can honestly say I have never seen such a happy bird of prey. As her mate came into the nest, she swiveled her head towards him before coyly lifting up to reveal the egg. She filled her throat pouch with air, threw her head back and let out a heart-warming, choked up screech, as if to say ‘look, we’ve done it!’


Egg identification: Kestrel | Barn Owl | Tawny Owl

Can you see the difference between Kestrel Eggs, Tawny Owl Eggs and Barn Owl Eggs?

Kestrel Eggs
Kestrel eggs are reddish in colour. The female will typically lay 3-6 eggs
Barn Owl Eggs. A female will lay between 3-8 pure white eggs which are relatively small.
Tawny Owl Eggs – Pure white eggs, two to three eggs is a typical clutch


You can see these precious wild eggs live on screens in Robert’s gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire or follow the highlights of his nestcams here:

Read more:

Follow my nest cameras:

Barn Owl Nest Camera 2019 | Tawny Owl Nest Camera 2019 | Peregrine Nest Camera 2019 | Kestrel Camera 2019


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