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Snow fun for barn owls as numbers reported dying this winter grows

Last modified: 16 December 2010

Barn owl sitting on fencepost

The RSPB is receiving a growing number of calls from members of the public who have discovered dead barn owls in recent days.

Although owls have been found dead in a range of locations, there has been a significant number found in barns and out-buildings.

Experts at the RSPB believe it is because the cold weather is making food almost impossible to find and the birds are dying of starvation within their roosting locations.

The wildlife charity is worried that the second expected big freeze can only make this situation worse and is appealing for vigilance where the birds are known to be roosting in the coming weeks.

Barn owls feed on small mammals like voles and mice, and with the ground frozen and covered in snow, this food is almost impossible to find.

The problem is likely to be most serious for barn owls born this year, that are less experienced at dealing with difficult conditions. It is thought that these first year birds will account for a high percentage of the mortality.

All owl death reports received so far are about barn owls, and the RSPB believes this is likely to be because they commonly live close to man, usually in out-houses, barns and farm buildings, so they are easier to notice.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Investigations Officer says: “We have been receiving a growing number of calls from people who have discovered dead barn owls in recent days and we believe it’s because they are starving in the cold weather as the icy, snowy conditions make their main food sources like voles and mice much harder to find.

“Although practically there is little that can be done to supplement the diets of barn owls, farmers and members of the public are encouraged to remain vigilant and report any sick or injured looking owls to a wildlife rescue centre immediately. It’s very distressing for both the birds and the people who discover them, as they are beautiful and charismatic species of the British countryside.

“Prompt action could save the life of a starving bird and once they’ve been fed up they should soon be fit for release back in the original location.”

Barn owls are most commonly seen at dusk, in open country, along field edges, riverbanks and roadside verges. They nest and roost in buildings found near these habitats, such as farm outbuildings and barns.

Despite the UK Barn owl population doing well in recent years, a high mortality event such as this could have serious conservation implications.

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