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The Owl Box Initiative Fieldwork Diary, May 2021

By Jodie Case, Research and Communications Assistant

Having mounted 50 project nest boxes during February and into March, our team then started the first round of nest box checks at the beginning of May. The Owl Box Initiative project is monitoring over 100 boxes and a first check of these nest boxes gives us vital information towards occupancy rates and will guide our second round of box checks to monitor more closely the boxes that are found to be occupied, and those that contain barn owl pairs which have made a breeding attempt.

Our licenced team geared up at the start of May and divided the project area into teams, coordinating efforts with local volunteer ornithologists and ringing groups. Once boxes were assigned, the majority of monitoring was done with a GoPro camera, mounted on a pole, which helped to reduce disturbance and time spent at the box.

Our GoPro mounted camera checking some new project boxes, and images of occupants during our first nest box checks.

Our Owl Box Initiative team consists of experienced ornithologists, and some share their highlights of being out and about monitoring nest boxes so far this season…

Dr Niamh McHugh – OBI Project Manager

“After a winter of careful planning, putting our new box checking technique to the test left me with a feeling of nervous anticipation. To my relief, our GoPro set up has been a success and is suitable for most of the study’s nest boxes. It has sped up our box checks and reduced disturbance – a win all around! It’s proving to be a fantastic tool for engagement too as we can easily share the images and videos we capture with landowners to show them the results of their conservation efforts. I am also enjoying looking through the library of Barn Owl pictures we’re building up!”

Ellie Ness – OBI Research Assistant

“It’s been brilliant to get out and start checking the barn owl boxes in the last couple weeks. Very exciting to see how many boxes are occupied, hopefully it will be a good breeding year for them! The most memorable moment so far for me was checking one of the new boxes put up by the project only a few months back to find it already had a pair of barn owls in it, with the female sitting on eggs and the box full of pellets so they must have found the box almost straight away! Great news and shows the importance of providing nest sites for these birds.”

Ryan Burrell - OBI Volunteer Ornithologist

"It is always exciting for our team, our farmers and gamekeepers when we start the checks each year and find out if we have added any new pairs. This year especially as we have been able to add a large number of new boxes under the OBI project, filling in gaps in the existing network. My most memorable moment this year is having a Tawny Owl attack our nest check camera whilst coming out of what is a traditionally occupied Barn Owl nest box. The remote camera causes very little disturbance, with most birds not leaving their nest box, but Tawny Owls can aggressively defend their chicks and this adult had two approximately 20 day old ones. Clearly this mother did not want her photo on the website!"

The team is now preparing to head out in June for the second round of nest box checks, to assess progress of broods and to take the opportunity to ring chicks, at the appropriate age, to allow their life history to be tracked. During these checks, we also hope to GPS tag a number of adult female Barn Owls to learn more about agri-environment scheme habitat use; we hope this information will build on research of Barn Owl foraging preferences on arable farmland.

We would like to say thank you to all project farmers for providing their time and organising access for our team to check nest boxes.


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