Everybody loves owls, even though they are more often heard than seen. We have three species of owl in our area; little owl, tawny owl and barn owl. They tend to have their own specific habitat preferences resulting in little owls generally inhabiting streamside tree-lines and open farmland, tawny owls in woods and barn owls in areas with significant grassy areas in which they can hunt.
The two bigger owls are pretty much nocturnal in their behaviour, but little owls are diurnal, meaning they might be seen hunting as often by day as by night. Also, they are happy to feast on worms and insects so tend to occupy more open aspects.
What’s happening to owls in Maidenhead?
Over the years, many mature trees with suitable nesting cavities for owls have been lost to storms. Across Berkshire, populations of little owl declined by some 30% and tawny owls by nearer 40%. Barn owls did better with an increase to between 60 and 100 pairs, perhaps by virtue of less competition from the other two owl species. The provision of a series of nest boxes in our area about 20 years ago helped to increase populations of both little owl and tawny owl.
More recently, through the work of Bisham Barn Owl Nest Box group (BBONB), a large number of owl (and kestrel) boxes of various designs have been installed in the area to replace and augment the earlier scheme, and monitoring teams are finding that numbers of all three species are beginning to use them.
What can I do?
It would be good to know where our local owls are active. Please listen out for calls and record where you heard them, together with any sightings of course. If you are unsure of the different calls, visit www.barnowltrust.org.uk/barn-owl-facts/uk-owl-species/ and listen to the recordings. (if you hear the full ‘tuwhit-tuwoo’ of the tawny owl, you have been fortunate to hear the pair conducting their amorous duet, with the female’s ‘tuwhit’ being answered immediately with the males ‘tuwhoo’).
You can also sponsor additional nest boxes with BBONB at bishambarnowlgroup.blogspot.co.uk/p/contact-us.html
Keep an ear open for neighbours reporting owls in their areas too.