Our disastrous breeding season has ended with the death of the last surviving chick.
We have had near constant drizzle for the past three days in the Bourne area and the adults have struggled to feed their young. When the grass is wet the parents birds get soaked every time they dive into it to catch a rodent. Barn owls don’t have waterproof feathers!
So last night only one mouse was brought in.
This is truly “nature red in tooth and claw!”
The adults can now build up their strength for next year when we hope for better things.
We wish all our viewers well over the coming months. Thirty nine countries have been represented this year. Stay safe and we hope to see you back at the end of January when the camera will be turned on again.
Sadly, yesterday evening the youngest chick died. Both youngsters looked well in the morning. On Tuesday night the oldest chick ate a vole. It took ten minutes to swallow it whole! We have now lost three of the four chicks born last month.
The reason for this is down to a lack of prey. The weather conditions have often made hunting difficult. We knew it was poor vole year so the main target prey would have been mice. The female has already completed her moult and so it is unlikely she will lay again this year. All our hopes are now pinned on the surviving chick.
Barn owls in Lincolnshire are having their worst year ever recorded with breeding success down 75%. These poor years happen occasionally but the population of adults remains stable from year to year giving us hope for a better breeding season in 2021.
At 5.30pm yesterday a stock dove visited the nest box and laid an egg. This is not unusual in barn owl nests but they rarely succeed.
Stock doves lay two eggs and incubate them from the first so it is unlikely she will return to lay the second. She isn’t far away as her daylight purring can be heard in the tunnel to the nest chamber.
The adult owls have been hunting quite late these past few nights as the strong winds has been hampering them. The female has also started hunting as the chicks don’t need brooding. They are four weeks old and can regulate their own temperature.
Sometimes viewers can get the impression the adult owls have not been seen very frequently. As the chicks grow the parents roost away from the box during daylight hours in a nearby tree or barn. Rest assured they return at night with food as the hissing calls of the chicks travel a long way and spur the adults to keep hunting whatever the weather.
There is no doubt this is a very poor year for their main prey the short tailed vole. So they are dependant on field mice, small rats and shrews. However, the forthcoming harvest should provide a glut of mice for a few weeks which will help our chicks at the time they will need this food the most.
Today our licensed ringers visited the owl tower and ringed the two remaining chicks.
The eldest is nearly four weeks old but they were too young to be sexed. Both owlets were healthy and well fed.
We think the male was roosting in the nearby barn so his ring number couldn’t be checked. The female was the same bird which bred here last year. She was born in Morton, not far from the tower, in July 2018.
Viewers will hopefully notice a vast improvement in picture quality today as we cleaned the cobwebs and dust from the camera lens. The chicks will be in the box for several weeks but there will be occasions when they will leave the nest chamber to explore the entrance tunnel leading to the nest. They won’t venture away from the tower until their wings develop properly.
Sadly another chick died at lunchtime today. We now have just two chicks remaining.
Our licensed ringers are hoping to ring them on Friday. At the same time they will clean the camera lens which is covered in cobwebs and dust and degrading the picture.
Unfortunately, the quality of the picture has deteriorated somewhat over the past two weeks. This is due to a combination of spider webs fogging the camera and the recent generally dry conditions producing dust in the box. Until the chicks are a bit older we can’t enter the nest chamber to clean the lens but in about two weeks time our licensed ringers will be ringing the chicks and checking the ring numbers on the adult owls and at the same time they will clean the camera lens.
We hope this temporary poor picture won’t affect your enjoyment of our owl family.
Our three remaining chicks are growing fast. The weather is perfect for hunting and the male has been busy bringing in prey, mainly field mice. Their main source of food is the field vole but their numbers rise and fall on a three year cycle and this year they are at their lowest point. So hardly any voles have been seen in the nest chamber.
The screen shot shows a very sleepy family. The hot weather means the female doesn’t have to brood the chicks very often. The chicks are born blind but are now opening their eyes. From mid week the hot and humid weather will be uncomfortable for our family but they will cope with it.
Sadly we have lost a chick, probably our youngest, which was born last Sunday. At 8am all four babies were feeding well. By mid morning one was lifeless in the nest. The screenshot shows the male picking up the dead chick and passing it to the female who lays it back down with its siblings. It is not possible to know what caused its death. There was a surfeit of prey in the nest chamber thanks to the excellent hunting skills of the male, so it is unlikely to have starved, although sometimes the tiniest chick can struggle to get its fair share.
Regular viewers will remember the traumatic events of last September and October when our original six chicks became two at fledging. However, the circumstances were totally different then. The weather was atrocious and hunting was almost impossible. This week we have had just over an inch of rain but there have been plenty of opportunities for hunting in between the showers.
In the previous blog we had made an assumption the fourth egg would not hatch as the chick was due on Saturday morning.
To our amazement the fourth chick was born at 11.45am on Sunday.
This is 76 hours after the third was born, most unusual in the realms of our knowledge of barn owl breeding.
We are learning so much from wildlife cameras and the Len Pick Trust live feed has really added to this knowledge.
The male is bringing lots of prey to the nest and the weather is fairly settled. However, the difference in age between the eldest and youngest chick is nearly seven days so we shall only get all four chicks to maturity if the weather stays kind to our owl family during the next two months.
The fourth egg was due to hatch yesterday. By today it was clear the egg was not viable. This can be for many reasons and is quite common in all bird species. The great news is we have three healthy chicks but with a long road to maturity ahead of them.
They will be in the nest for another two months and the main factor in their continuing success will be the provision of mice and voles by the parents.
The male will do all the hunting for the first three weeks after which the female will also hunt as the chicks get bigger and need more food.
If we get windy, wet weather then the brood size may deplete which is very natural in barn owls.
Let’s hope for the good weather to continue.