Barn Owls and Voles
There has been quite a bit of talk this week from listeners on BBC Radio Cumbria ( I tune in to my old local station on the internet) about more sightings of Barn Owls than usual.
Andy Chaff (not sure if I have spelled the surname correctly), an owl expert from The World Owl Center at Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass, home to the World Owl Trust was interviewed. He had some interesting thing to say about owls in general (216 species of owl worldwide, 5 native in the UK) but mostly about barn owls.
Members not in the UK or with no connection to Cumbria may not know about the devastating floods that effected the county in November 2009. This has affected owls by knock on effect, wildlife including the barn owls main food, voles, were washed away and drowned. Also a bad winter with prolonged snow and ice on the ground has had a detrimental effect. When it is a bad year for voles, it will mean a bad year for the barn owls for breeding and loss of life.
Now there isnít so much food for the owls and they are having to extend their hunting areas to get their daily food requirement. Increasing the hours of hunting into the day light hours and the owls taking more risks. All this extra strain is weakening the owls. I say extend their hunting area because they are territorial and wonít leave their area and head for pastures new. This could be why they have become more noticeable.
The voles habitat has to be just right, they live in grass. The long untended grass besides roads and motorways is perfect for voles, so owls have started hunting along these corridors putting them in more danger. Owls are not good in wind and the slip stream from lorries etc can pull the owl into the road where they are injured or killed.
Apart from not being good in windy conditions owls feathers arenít waterproof so wet conditions are not good either so they canít hunt.
Barn owls sit completely motionless and blend in with leaves, you could be 3 foot away from one and not actually see it.
They do this to protect themselves, other birds mob and attack them. Another defense is to puff themselves up to look bigger, even by looking as if there are ears on the top of their head Ė actually their ears are like humans at the side of the head. Infact they are actually much smaller underneath the feathers and lighter than we would imagine and roughly 300g.
Their special feathers mean that they are totally silent in flight.
The sound we recognise they make "Twit -twoo" is actually made by two birds a male will "twit"and the female answers "twoo".
Owls blink downwards like humans where as other birds blink upwards.
I must say the most astounding thing I heard was the fact that a barn owl can hear a voles heart beat from 20 foot away!!!! I am sure if we held a vole to our ear we would be hard pressed to hear anything!