Monitoring the success of our birds of prey in the Heart of England Forest is an on-going project for three dedicated volunteers, husband and wife team John and Ros along with long-term friend Roger. For the last eight years they have installed and checked on a network of nest boxes, specifically designed to be suitable for barn owls, tawny owls, little owls and kestrels.
An ever-growing number of nest boxes in the Forest
With our land holding increasing year on year, this means there is an ever-growing number of boxes to check. At the start of 2019, in the Heart of England Forest, there were 118 boxes to be monitored – 48 barn owl boxes, 37 for kestrels, 30 for tawny owl and three for little owls. These nest boxes can be found in a variety of locations in Dorsington, Spernal, Honeybourne and in the Lenches.
Each time the volunteers check the boxes they take records of the birds, their size of brood, and ring any birds over 30 days old so they know if each bird is using the same box every year.
A good year for barn owls, tawny owls and kestrels
Overall, 2019 was a good year for barn owls, tawny owls and kestrels. The volunteers recorded 20 breeding pairs of barn owls, a significant increase from last year’s 6 breeding pairs, but a similar number to those recorded in 2017. However, the number of chicks produced was more than double with 79 chicks in 2019 compared to 36 chicks in 2017.
Tawny owls also did very well with 11 breeding pairs recorded and 21 chicks produced, the most we have ever recorded in the Forest.
Kestrels also had a good year with 8 breeding pairs producing 30 chicks, double the number of chicks compared with 2018. A pair of little owls have been recorded using the same box since 2012, but 2019 was the first year a chick has been produced since 2016.
Sharing data on a national level
To be able to monitor our birds of prey requires a Schedule 1 Permit from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Any data recorded in the Heart of England Forest is then shared at a national level with the BTO. Our results are analysed alongside other data collated in the UK, enabling a greater understanding of the population dynamics of these bird species.
The impact of the weather on birds of prey
Weather plays an important role in how our birds of prey fair. Although we had a good year it might have been better. The rain in June had an impact on the size and success of barn owl breeding with barn owls not found in some parts of the Forest where they have previously bred. In addition, the wet weather in late October and November may have also influenced the success of late second broods at their time of fledgling.
Providing good quality habitats for birds of prey
We may not be able to control the weather, but we can do our best to provide good quality habitats for our birds of prey. Here in the Heart of England Forest we continue to provide plenty of long grass in which birds of prey can hunt for small mammals, such as short-tailed field vole, for their own survival and their chicks.
The Forestry team is well placed to manage the new woodlands and their wide grassy rides to provide optimum habitat for these amazing predators. In turn, with the help of dedicated volunteers, we will continue to closely monitor our owls and kestrels and do our best to ensure their survival.