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It's a hoot

Last modified: 08 March 2011

Barn owl about to dive on prey

The barn owl is in trouble, so who better to come to the rescue than the RSPB – with the help of a few owl Samaritans.  

Staff from the RSPB visited a farm in Newtownards this week and placed a nestbox, after barn owl calls had been heard in the area. 

These beautiful, iconic birds of prey are largely nocturnal, but can be seen sometimes at dawn and dusk.  Although they are notoriously elusive and seldom spotted, they have an unmistakeable shrill shrieking call which can give them away.  They hunt small prey such as mice and rats, and nest in barns and tree hollows. 

Sadly, these majestic birds have suffered huge declines over the last few decades, due largely to loss of habitat and changes in agriculture.  The good news is that there are options available to help stop any further decline, and with a bit of a helping hand through proper habitat management, we hope these beautiful birds will be back on track for a healthy future. 

Many other bird species have suffered ranging degrees of decline in the last century, with once commonplace garden birds as the house sparrow and starling seeing such dramatics drops in numbers that they have been placed on the red category of conservation concern in the UK, and on the amber list in Ireland. 

The good news is that just by taking small measures you could make a huge difference - turning your garden into a haven for birds is more simple than you might think. 

·         Leaving small areas of grass unmowed attract insects, which are a food source for birds.

·         Planting trees or shrubs means birds are provided with shelter, and flowers /plants generate seeds and attract insects.  Even if you don't have a garden, you could put a few pots on your windowsill or balcony.

·         Putting up feeding stations and maintaining them all through the year ensures they always have a steady food source.

·         Putting up a nest box gives them a solid nesting site, and provides shelter for roosting.

If you want to help owls or other birds by putting up a nestbox, now is the time of year to do it.  Nestboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the bird, and even if they do not use it for nesting, it still provides much needed shelter and warmth. With National Nestbox Week just having passed, when could be a better time!

For more information visit the RSPB website:, or if you think that you might have barn owls in your area, call the RSPB Northern Ireland Office on 02890 491547.

Susan Kula supports the work of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), so if you have any concerns about wild bird crime, contact the RSPB office: 02890 491547, or your local police station: 0845 600 8000.

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