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Suffolk: Hopes that barn owls are staging ‘partial recovery’

10:58 13 June 2014

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Copyright Steve Plume 2013

Wildlife experts are hopeful that Suffolk’s barn owls will stage a partial recovery after their numbers were decimated by last year’s freezing weather.

Frozen ground and biting winds during the winter of 2013 caused barn owl mortality in the region to jump by about 300%, with the British Trust for Ornithology, reporting that 19 ringed birds were being reported dead each day.

However, mild conditions have led to a population surge of short-tailed voles – the owls’ preferred prey – giving the birds a greater chance of successfully breeding.

Steve Piotrowski, of Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project and ornithological advisor for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: “Early signs this year are showing that we are getting a partial recovery. Although there is low occupancy in nest boxes due to last year’s high mortality those that are breeding are doing well.

“If that continues, and we don’t get a period of inclement weather that lasts three or four weeks, there should be a partial recovery and hopefully that will go on next year to a full recovery.”

Mr Piotrowski said terrible weather between March and May 2013 had led to “an amazingly bad” breeding season.

He added: “Basically owls have to reach 340gms before they are in good enough condition to breed. If they don’t reach that figure they just breed.”

The population slump followed a record high in Suffolk barn owl numbers in 2012, when 420 breeding pairs were reported. The first owl survey ever carried out in 1932 saw a population of about 350 birds.

The success of barn owls in the region over recent years is due largely to the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project – a partnership project between Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists Group.

The initiative has seen hundred of nesting boxes installed across the county to replace lost habitat such as dead or hollow trees and modern barn construction.

The county had come perilously close to losing its barn owls – in 2005 numbers dipped to between 50 and 80 breeding pairs.

Mr Piotrowski said the weather now posed the biggest challenge for Suffolk’s barn owls, although there are still some farming-related issues.

He added: “The other thing that’s causing a little bit of concern is the rodenticide, there’s a worry there could be some secondary poisoning.

“Most of the owls in Suffolk are in the wider countryside feeding on short tailed voles, but the Barn Owl Trust are saying it’s having a real impact elsewhere.”

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