Birds of prey – flying high in the Forest - The Heart of England Forest

Three barn owl chicks

Every year more great news reaches us from the team who monitor the birds of prey breeding in the Heart of England Forest – and this year is no exception as the growing number of residents shows that they are here to stay!

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers John Mathews, Ros Matthews and Roger Juckes, we are able to compile an accurate picture of the thriving raptor community in the Forest each year. They survey more than 80 nest boxes sited across the Forest in Dorsington, Spernal and Honeybourne, and carefully observe the numbers of barn owls, kestrels and tawny owls setting up home and breeding from them.

Numbers stay constant

Over the past four years there has been a steady consolidation, and in some cases a rise, of raptor numbers in the Heart of England Forest . The team has already ringed many of this year’s youngsters, so as the young birds disperse from breeding grounds during the autumn, we can establish their movements and check whether they eventually return to the Forest to breed in future years. The team also compiles electronic nest-record cards and record the distribution and number of nests, trends in egg-laying, clutch and brood sizes and survival rates. All of this information provides us with a regular snapshot of breeding success and can offer an early warning should downward trends in population changes occur.

This year’s tawny owl numbers show that eight breeding pairs produced 12 young, compared with seven pairs and 10 chicks in 2016. Barn owl numbers have increased from 14 breeding pairs and 25 chicks in 2016 to 15 breeding pairs producing an amazing 31 chicks this year.

Meanwhile, while the number of breeding pairs of kestrels remained at 2016’s figure of 11, those pairs have a produced an astonishing 41 chicks, compared with 28 in the previous year. It is evident that they are more than comfortable in the environment that the Heart of England Forest provides!

Buffet dining on the wing

For the flourishing raptor population, the appeal of life in the Forest lies to a large extent in the availability of a ready food supply. Small rodents such as voles and mice are abundant in the large areas of tall grass throughout the Forest and provide easy prey for the adult birds seeking nourishment for their growing young. Barn owls also hunt rabbits, so while they pick off their prey as it scurries through the undergrowth, they are also serving a handy purpose in helping to keep down the number of animals that often attack the vulnerable bases of our newly-planted trees.

Here at the Heart of England Forest we will always continue to ensure a safe and attractive environment for these beautiful birds and why wouldn’t we? They do us just as many favours as we do them!

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