Barn owl champion, Chris Sperring: “Seeing a barn owl hunting is inspiring because the bird indicates the diversity and health of its environment.” Chris is an owl expert and BBC Radio 4 presenter
Ghostly, angelic, ethereal… a barn owl on the hunt is a mesmeric bird. Golden above but all-white at a distance, it drifts 2–3m above the ground like a giant moth, frequently hovering or banking steeply to change tack. Effortless? In reality it’s an energetic hunting technique, which is why this steely, intensely focused predator often also hunts from perches.
On a good night an owl catches four or five voles, mice or shrews. Factor in food for the chicks, and a breeding pair may make 5,000 kills a year. Small wonder that barn owls are tied to the richest small-mammal habitat: tussocky, unimproved grassland.
Seeing a barn owl requires luck – and you may need it more than ever this year as some populations are at a low ebb after the deluges of 2012 and 2014, and the cold snap in early 2013. Stake out a vantage point with panoramic views of rough grassland or fen an hour before dusk on a calm evening, and sit tight to keep a low profile. Then bide your time.
Best Places to See
- Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
- North Norfolk
- Somerset Levels
- Suffolk Coast