The availability of foraging habitat is of course essential but for breeding purposes there must also be roost and nest sites available. Generations of Barn Owls use the same nesting sites year after year, sometimes over centuries. Nesting sites are usually only abandoned when the foraging habitat has been lost or the nesting site itself has been substantially modified, destroyed or subjected to increased human disturbance. The protection of traditional or potentially suitable nest sites within prime habitats where Barn Owls are known to be present is of major importance for the bird’s survival. Barn Owls are not restricted to nesting just in old barns; modern barns can attract these birds especially if a suitable darkened site, in the form of nest box, is provided. The box is positioned so that the owls have an unhindered flight path into the box and rats and farm cats cannot gain easy entry.
Barn Owls will also nest in a a stack of bales and can also be encouraged to select a specific part of the stack if a tunnel is left between bales. This is best positioned about two-thirds of the way up the outside face of the stack in an open dutch barn, or on the inner face within a more enclosed barn. The tunnel should be about 12″ wide and about three bales deep. To prevent owlets from falling out of these tunnels a baffleboard about 10″ deep should be firmly wedged into the lower part of the entrance to the tunnel. To increase the birds’ opportunity of breeding without being disturbed these tunnels should be constructed in the rear of the stack which is normally the last part to be removed. Many farmers already construct tunnels such as these in a triple stack of bales at the rear of the barn, left specially for this purpose. This stack remains in place for as long as the bales remain suitable for this purpose, whilst new bales are annually added to them. It is preferable to construct two such nesting tunnels to provide the owls with alternative sites. Even better though is to insert a specially designed box when the stack is first built.
When traditional nesting or roosting sites have been lost provision of nesting space or boxes can be included in new and renovated buildings though any increased human activity would also have to be taken into consideration in regard to the suitability of such sites. If such provision cannot be made it may be possible to provide an alternative artificial nest or roost in which case a nest box should be placed in a quieter site nearby preferably well before the traditional site is likely to be disrupted. Boxes are normally erected between October and March to avoid the possibility of any disturbance to the birds which may already be occupying the site during the breeding period.
Wherever possible old hedgerow or parkland trees with cavities should be left standing, unless they present any danger. Tall hollow stumps can be capped with wooden boards to provide spacious sheltered roosts and possible nest sites. Outdoor boxes can also be erected in tall trees especially when a nearby site has blown down or been felled. If possible plant native tree species when new woodlands or hedgerows are being considered so that in the long-term new tree sites will become available to owls and other birds.
Having now established a network of well 1100 nest boxes much of our work in relation to nest boxes is repair and replacement of these boxes. However, if you have control of any open land or buildings and would like us make an assesment regarding suitability for nest boxes then please Contact us. We do not make a charge for individual nest boxes, they are funded by voluntary donations, membership fees and sponsorships.
Recently the placing of nest boxes has been a valuable contribution towards ensuring that nest sites are available to barn owls. During 2000 just 19 pairs of breeding birds occupied 20 nest sites (one pair abandoned one site & moved to a second site) in Cheshire; 8 of these nests were in nest boxes. By 2014 we had 159 breeding pairs; 146 of these nests were in nest boxes. Consequently the significance of nest boxes and the need to provide them on a long term basis cannot be over stated.
There are three basic types of nest boxes:
External tree boxes – these are made of 9mm plywood then varnished & weatherproofed. They placed in suitable trees where good habitat exists nearby
External Pole boxes – these are also made of 9mm plywood then varnished & weatherproofed. They are mounted on poles where good habitat exists nearby but there is no other structure to support the box.
Internal Boxes – these are made of 6mm plywood and are usually left untreated. They are placed in man made structures where good habitat exists nearby.
Since August 2000 we have been making nest boxes and began placing them in October 2000. The outbreak of foot & mouth disease stopped the placing prematurely but we would have taken a break during the breeding season anyway. We will resume placing boxes around mid autumn 2001. If you have control of any open land or buildings and would like us make an assesment regarding suitability for nest boxes then please Contact us. We do not make a charge for individual nest boxes, they are funded by voluntary donations, membership fees and sponsorships.
We have found it most economical to build the boxes ourselves though often need both financial & physical help to do so.