And then there were none

The youngest owlet has finally dispersed and the nest box is now empty. It’s been a successful year and there are now three new barn owls somewhere out there in the Shropshire countryside. This brings our total owls bred to 11 since we started in 2018.

The nest box shouldn’t be empty for long, but hopefully we have enough time to clean it out and make any repairs needed before another (or possibly the same) couple of barn owls settle in.

Three great tits take an interest in the empty nest box.

And then there was one

The owlets have spent the past few days gaining their independence and the older two have now left the nestbox and dispersed, to who knows where, as they do at this age. The youngest is still here and still being fed by the adult female, but it won’t be long before he too will fly off into the distance.

The owlets at twelve weeks old

A gang of Mallards

A dozen shy young mallards (mostly female) have just arrived by the pond. I might get a better shot if they’re still here tomorrow, but I don’t want to disturb them.

The next morning and they’re still here, doing what ducks do: eating the pond plants and messing up the water!

Update 20 July. The mallards have gone, back to their pond next door where they had escaped from!

Three learner pilots

All three owlets are now learning to fly. The oldest is 9 weeks old and as a result the most competent, but as you can see, all three need a little more training. The adult female is still visiting at night to provide food but she will be coming back less often as she lets the youngsters fend for themselves.

Update 7 July. The barn owlets are well on their way to being independent. Their flying skills have improved and they’re now learing to hunt on their own too. It won’t be long before they will disperse and each settle up somewhere else. It will be a shame to see them go but that’s what they do.

Two learner pilots

The two older owlets are spending the nights learning how to leap from branch to branch. They don’t always get on though, as you can see! The youngest isn’t coming out of the nest box yet, but it won’t be long before all three of them are out learning to fly.

The adult female is still coming back to feed them but will likely reduce her visits in order to encourage the youngsters to learn how to fend for themselves.

Three boys

We had a great day yesterday with John Lightfoot visiting to check the three owlets out. All are doing well, good weights, and as beautiful/ugly as is to be expected! All boys this year (the three last year were all girls). Another week and they may start to learn to fly.

Day 44

First views of the world! 49 days old and the oldest owlet has ventured out onto the entrance to the nest box to view the wide world outside for the first time. A grainy video in the twilight but the typical wobble-head of the young owl, half fluff and half feathers, is clear to see.

Baby fish

The hungry heron hasn’t eaten all the fish! The little sticklebacks we put in in the spring have, surprisingly, spawned and the shallows are full of tiny little ones, each no more than a cm long but already displaying the three spines than give them their name. Long may they be small and unnoticeable to the big bird.

Day 44

The growing owlets have forced the adults to move out as there is little room left in the nest box. The male appears to have gone completely but the female is now roosting in the old nest box nearby and appears in the late evening to hunt for the hungry three fur balls who are now gaining their true feathers. In only a week’s time the first will venture out of the nest box and start learning to fly!

Daytime hunting

Both adults are spending a lot more time hunting. They’re out in the afternoon now as well as evening and night and are bringing back a lot of prey for the owlets. Sometimes one of them will return within five minutes of leaving, with another unfortunate field vole.

Running out of room

Day 30. The three fluffballs are getting bigger and there’s not much room left in the nest box for the owlets and adults. The female is now out hunting with the male at night and it won’t be long for them to start roosting elsewhere during the day. When that happens, we should be able to go in and have a closer look at the owlets.

Chitter chatter

Day 20 and the owlets are gaining their fluffy coats so soon the female won’t need to keep them warm and can go out hunting with the male. The remaining eggs look dirty and she has almost certainly given up on them.

Exception to the rule

We’ve made the decision to add a non-native species to the pond: grass carp. Originally from Asia where they are used to get rid of weeds in paddy fields and that is what we need them for here. We have the first signs of broadleaved pondweed in the pond and really do not want it to take hold as it could completely take over, as it has done in the small pond.

The fish are herbivores and won’t eat amphibia or other fish, and won’t breed either and so are a safe and hopefully effective form of weed control. So long as the herons don’t eat them.

Fishy lawnmowers
The first signs of broadleaved pondweed
Uncontrolled broadleaved pondweed in the small pond

Getting bigger

The female is struggling to control the three hatchlings and sit on the remaining eggs at the same time. The oldest is now two weeks old and all three are doing well, with the male bringing back plenty of food each night.