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Guernsey Barn Owl Survey

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Telephone: Guernsey Biological Records Centre on 01481 220365

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Images © Dave Carre

Welcome to our page.  Here we will keep you up to date with the Barn Owl Survey and how it is progressing.

Why a survey now?

The 2019 habitat survey reported an alarming loss of grassland. Rough grassland is the Barn Owl’s preferred hunting habitat. If this is lost through changing land use, our Barn Owls cannot thrive. At present we do not know what is happening to the island’s Barn Owl population. This survey, together with ringing data, is establishing baseline data about the number of breeding pairs and chicks.

Why Barn Owls?

Barn Owls, like bats, are an indicator species. This means any significant decrease in their numbers is an early warning sign that there are problems in the wider environment.

2022 Season

2022 saw the first season of fieldwork checking known sites where Barn Owls have bred in recent years. They are very faithful to their breeding sites and return to them year after year. Some will be used by many generations of Barn Owls.

Three trail cams, bought by the Ornithology Section were put to good use. They were set up to take 20 second video clips at night and are triggered by movement. Volunteer hours were limited and although we contacted owners of nearly all the sites, we were only able to use the cameras at 7. The videos confirmed the presence of breeding owls and, in many cases, how many chicks had fledged.

By the autumn we had information from all the sites:

· 76 Barn Owls, 48 adults and 28 fledged owlets

· 19 breeding sites.

· 8 roosting sites (some of these may have been used for breeding but we had no evidence)

· There was at least one breeding site in every parish – see map below

The 2022 survey gives us a snapshot of Barn Owl abundance and distribution in Guernsey. We now have a baseline to compare future results. Repeating surveys over time will then provide population trends.

Andy Brown from the Guernsey Press was very keen to do a feature on the Barn Owl Survey. While ‘serious decline’ may be overstating the case, the indications are that they would benefit from rigorous habitat protection and mitigation measures where development has an impact on their hunting and breeding grounds.

What next?

Strategy for Nature Grant

We were very fortunate to receive a £5000 grant from the Strategy for Nature at the end of 2022. Some of the money has been earmarked for a live webcam which we plan to install in a nest box later this year. We have also bought more trail cams.

2023 Survey

We are surveying breeding sites again in 2023. We have a small team of volunteers this year: Will Harford-Fox, Ben Le Prevost, Dave Carre, Trevor Bourgaize, Liz Sweet and myself will be using the trail cams this spring and summer to monitor nearly all of the 30 viable breeding sites that we know of. Later in the autumn we plan to carry out maintenance and repair on some of the boxes that are showing their age.

Stage 1 - Desk Research
The first step is now underway and we are doing desk research.  Vic and Jill Froome have done a huge amount of work over the years, making boxes putting them up and recording what has happened.  He is an important member of the team as he has the most local knowledge, but he cannot manage it single-handed.  We are using his data as a starting point and will spend the next few months getting as much as we can up to date.

 We want to hear from anyone who has an owl box, knows the history of one or another site used for breeding. Most Barn Owl boxes around the island were put up several years ago. People may have a box either because they put it up or they moved to a property which already had one in place. Maybe a box has been lost because it has been removed or damaged in a storm. 

Every piece of information will help us to understand better the status of these iconic birds. 

Information needed is; 

  1. Location – this will be confidential.  The road name, Perry’s guide reference or GPS will help us to map where they are on the island.
  2. State of the box – even if it has been lost! 
  3. Occupation over the past 2-3 years: Barn owls, Kestrels and Stock Doves are most likely to have used them.  We want information about any species.
  4. If it has not been occupied at all.
2 - Fieldwork
This will start in spring 2022 and continue through the summer and early autumn. The team will monitor known sites and other likely to check for signs of breeding.  This will be further supported by Chris Mourant who will continue to ring birds where permission has been given.  This gives us further valuable information about individual birds.
3 - Report
An interim report will be given to members of the Ornithology Section in spring 2022. 

A full report will be published after the fieldwork has been completed in late 2022 or early 2023.

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