Boost for endangered barn owls as new nest site discovered

Conor McKinney from Ulster Wildlife checking the new barn owl nest site outside Downpatrick – one of three now known in Northern Ireland - and removing the chicks for ringing to help monitor their progress (c) Ronald Surgenor

Northern Ireland’s tiny barn owl population has been given a much-needed boost with the discovery of a new nest site in Co. Down.

Two fluffy white chicks made their first appearance this week from a nest box erected almost five years ago outside Downpatrick, much to the delight of wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford and conservationists from Ulster Wildlife who installed it.

“About two weeks ago, I thought I heard snoring sounds coming from one of the nest boxes,” said Mr Sandford, who chairs the Nature Friendly Farming Network and has won awards for his sustainable farming work. 

“This is a distinctive begging call made by hungry chicks, so you can imagine my excitement after years of occasional sightings. I contacted Ulster Wildlife immediately to take a look and was ecstatic when we found chicks.”

This now brings the number of active barn owl nest sites in Northern Ireland back up from two to three; a welcome addition to our tiny barn owl population, which is estimated to be fewer than 30 to 50 breeding pairs.

Barn owls are in serious decline in Northern Ireland caused by a lack of nest sites and suitable foraging habitat. Luckily, this pair couldn’t have chosen a more sympathetic farm to set up home with wild bird cover, meadows and mature hedgerows

Conor McKinney, from Ulster Wildlife, said, “We are delighted for David whose wonderful farm is now home to a family of barn owls and pleased one of our nest boxes finallly attracted some special occupants. Barn owls are in serious decline in Northern Ireland caused by a lack of nest sites and suitable foraging habitat. Luckily, this pair couldn’t have chosen a more sympathetic farm to set up home with wild bird cover, meadows and mature hedgerows – holding plentiful mice and shrews for barn owls to thrive.”

The chicks were checked and ringed under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to help monitor their health and survival. During the process, a ring was spotted on one of the adults as it flew from the nest, which the charity believes may have been one of the chicks it ringed over the years from a neighbouring nest site on the Ards Peninsula.

To help ensure the survival of Northern Ireland’s endangered barn owls, Ulster Wildlife has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to raise £20,000. A donation of just £10 could help improve 1 m of hedgerow and £100 could help build and install a nest box.  If you give a hoot, donate today  or call 028 9045 4094.

Find out more about barn owls in Northern Ireland

Barn owl chicks

Wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford with the two barn owl chicks discovered on his farm near Downpatrick – a welcome new nest site in Northern Ireland for this endangered bird (c) Ronald Surgenor

NI's barn owls need your help

Barn owls are in trouble and without urgent action could be lost forever. If you give a hoot, please donate today 

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Barn owl (c) Jon Hawkins