It’s not everyday you see a photo of someone cuddling three large and fluffy baby barn owls! But that’s what my partner in crime writing, Julia, saw on her Facebook feed recently. Interest piqued, she phoned her old school friend Lynn (the owl cuddler!) and asked her what the story was behind the photo…
Lynn and her husband Colin, live in the wilds of Suffolk. Colin loves birds and is extremely knowledgeable about them. As a child, his family lived near the RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve and the local Rector, a keen and knowledgeable birder, would often take the local children to visit, and Colin got the bug!
The decline in the barn owl population has been well publicised and, while many of us were concerned about it, Colin and Lynn decided to do something practical to help. For his birthday in March a couple of years ago, Lynn presented Colin with an owl nest box. They put the nest box in a suitable tree and waited… and waited…
Exactly a year later, on Colin’s birthday, they saw a barn owl enter the nest box and were thrilled when the pair laid eggs and the young owls fledged. Sadly, the youngsters did not make it through the following hard winter.
This year has been exceptionally good for birds and many people have reported garden birds producing two and even three broods. But barn owls tend to nest only in the spring, and this year, there had been no activity in their nest box. So, when Lynn saw a barn owl fly into the box in September, she didn’t hold out much hope. But it seems the young pair checking out the nest site were keen to produce their second family of the year and, to Colin and Lynn’s amazement, they spotted six eggs in the box. This resulted in the three gorgeous fluffy female chicks in the photo.
Local Suffolk owl expert, Steven Piotrowski, has given help and advice to Colin and Lynn, and he recently came along to ring the chicks. He also weighed and measured them to help monitor how they get along in adult life.
It’s not all plain sailing for the owls, or for the anxious nest box owners! Jackdaws, well known for their habit of gathering sticks, often pile them up inside nest boxes which can trap the parent owls and youngsters. Colin keeps a close eye on the box and, in the first year had to empty it of sticks no less than 23 days running – a fact regularly quoted by Steven Piotrowski when giving talks about the trials of protecting barn owls!
Lynn reports that the largest chick is just about ready to fly, so fingers crossed they all mature and go on to breed and keep these beautiful birds in our countryside.