This is in danger of becoming an unwelcome habit, but after Saturday's road casualty I found another dead Barn Owl yesterday. This one wasn’t a victim of a road accident as I found it in a partially wooded area at Out Rawcliffe. When I turned the body over for a closer look there was with a single large hole in its body, so readers of a squeamish disposition may wish to look away now.
Not a pretty sight. It looks as if one of the crow family, and probably a Carrion Crow as there are plenty of them about here, found a freshly dead Barn Owl then pierced the carcass to take out the best bits, the heart and liver. It has been documented in the past that crows do this and they are not labelled “Carrion Crows” without good reason.
The Carrion Crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds and although this seems a particularly gruesome habit it is an example of nature in one of its rawest moments. So now there are two dead Barn Owl to pass on to Lancaster University where they will be tested as to cause of death (known in one case), but also for any secondary causes and/or remains of rodenticides/pesticides.
The coldest months of January to March are known as a time of year when many birds have difficulties finding food whereby many literally starve to death. The days and nights have been very cold of late, the coldest March for 50+ years. Barn Owls have been especially active recently suggesting that they are having to spend longer hunting in order to sustain themselves through the cold but to also build up reserves in readiness for the breeding season.
With the nesting season due to start this may be an opportune time to remind readers of the law regarding Barn Owls, particulalry as a number of bird watchers and photographers choose to ignore or "forget" the rules in their preoccupation with Barn Owls and other birds with special protection.
Most bird species have some protection by law, Barn Owls and their nest sites are specifically protected. The Barn Owl is specially protected under Schedules 1 and 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is illegal to kill, injure or take a wild Barn Owl or to take or destroy its eggs. It is also illegal to check nest sites or even to disturb a Barn Owl while it is at or near a breeding site - unless you hold a special licence. (Usually March to October is considered the breeding season, but they might breed at almost any time of year).
Any study or disturbance of Barn Owl nesting sites requires a “Schedule 1 Licence” which can only be obtained through official government bodies or agencies - usually Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or Northern Ireland Environment Agency or British Trust for Ornithology. The Schedule 1 scheme monitors where the observers are operating, and tries to ensure that no site is visited by more than one group of observers
It has been a bad few days for Barn Owls, at least for me, so I hope the breeding season is a good one for them.
In the meantime stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for both bad and good news about birds or take a look at Stewart's Photo Gallery from Australia where there could well be a Barn Owl or two.