How have barn owls fared this year?

2015 has proved a disappointing year for barn owl reproduction. Mike Toms from the BTO explains why.

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While 2014 was one of the best breeding seasons on record for Britain’s barn owls, 2015 has proved particularly disappointing.

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Volunteers involved in monitoring nest sites reported a disastrous start to the breeding season, with many boxes either unoccupied or with residents that had failed to initiate a breeding attempt. Even those pairs that did try to reproduce laid a smaller than usual clutch, or had broods numbering just one or two chicks.

The poor performance can be linked to a dip in the vole cycle, further hampered as the season progressed by the dry conditions limiting grass growth. However, rather than give up entirely, some pairs made their first breeding attempt much later in the year, with some starting in August and having chicks in the nest well into October.

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Late broods can also occur in good years, with early pairs squeezing in a second breeding attempt when the first youngsters have fledged.