Barn owls had very bad year in 2013

It’s the worst year on record for barn owls after a new report in the UK found their nesting sites were significantly down in every area.

Monitoring sites around the country report that the cold spring has reduced the number of occupied sites with some nests with no eggs found at all.

Overall the number of occupied nests was down 71% on the average across all previous years, according to the Barn Owl Trust, which collated the information from 21 independent groups stretching from Jersey in the Channel Islands to south-west Scotland.

The situation is the “worst year ever recorded” for the flagship farmland species, says conservationists.

The dramatic drop in nesting was largely down to the freezing spring in 2013, with the coldest March since 1962 which left many barn owls dead, a report by the Barn Owl Trust said. It was also the wettest summer on record.

Almost four times as many dead barn owls were reported to the British Trust for Ornithologyin March 2013 than normal and by mid-April it was possible that there were fewer barn owls alive in the UK than at any time since records began, the report said.

David Ramsden, senior conservation officer for the Barn Owl Trust said:

“It’s a lot to do with the fact that March was like January. Just when it should be getting warmer and mortality should have been dropping, it continued.”

The icy weather, which reduced the availability of the bird’s small mammal prey, was the latest in a series of extreme weather events going back to 2009 which had hit barn owl populations, he said.

“If we stop having frequent extreme weather events the population could recover in a couple of years to what it was before the extreme weather events began in December 2009.”

But even those population levels were not terribly high, as the barn owl had suffered a historical decline from the mid 1800s through to the late 1980s, as a result of increasingly intensive agriculture which affected barn owls’ habitat and prey.

A survey in the late 1990s revealed there were around 4,000 pairs.

h/t: The GuardianĀ 

Photo credit: Barn Owl Trust

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