BirdWatch Ireland is undertaking a survey of barn owls in Kerry this summer and they are requesting the assistance of the public and landowners to report information on the species to help direct the survey efforts.
Over recent decades, barn owl populations have suffered extensive declines and are now a red-listed bird of conservation concern in Ireland.
Countryside’s Sentinel Species
As a top predator and sentinel species for the health of our countryside, the declines in barn owl populations are extremely worrying.
The changing agricultural landscape has resulted in the loss of suitable habitats, including a reduction of prey-rich foraging habitat and nesting sites.
Alongside these land use changes and the loss of habitat, the increased use and increased toxicity of anti-coagulant rodenticides, and the expansion of major road networks are likely to be the main factors which have influenced the declines in the Barn Owl populations.
Kerry – A Stronghold
Although barn owl populations have declined over recent decades, Kerry has remained a stronghold for the population. The county holds one of the highest number of known nest sites in the country, and recent conservation efforts to help barn owls in Kerry, which has included providing purpose-built nest boxes, and ensuring protection of known nest sites, have proved successful.
The barn owl survey in Kerry, which is supported by Kerry County Council through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage’s National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund, aims to establish how the species is currently faring in the county and to determine how the conservation measures previously implemented are working.
Protection of Nest Sites
The findings of the survey will be used to ensure the protection of nest sites and to direct targeted conservation efforts which will include the provision of nest boxes to help the local population. Michael O’Clery, of the Kerry Branch of BirdWatch Ireland, who leads the barn owls survey in Kerry, said that it’s a very interesting time for barn owls in Kerry.
“The population seems to be doing well and it is great to see how many of our nest boxes have been taken up by barn owls and used for nesting.
The Naming of the Shrew
“The greater white-toothed shrew, which is an introduced small mammal, is present in neighbouring counties and although it has not been recorded in Kerry yet, it will likely soon colonise and it will be interesting to see what affect this has on the local barn owl population,” said Mr. O’Clery.
To assist the survey efforts, BirdWatch Ireland are requesting information on barn owls in the county, John Lusby of BirdWatch Ireland explained the citizen science element of the survey:
“It is a very special experience to glimpse the ghostly form of the barn owl floating silently over their hunting grounds in the dead of night, or to hear their eerie screeches and strange snoring calls.
Asking for Information
“Everybody remembers such an encounter, and we are asking people to report this information to us, which will greatly help our survey efforts to locate nest sites and to determine the health of the population.
“We are also looking for information on barn owl nest boxes in the county, we have installed nest boxes throughout the county but so have many different groups and individuals who have gone to great effort to help barn owls in Kerry.
“We hope to get a better idea of how many nest boxes are in place and the portion that are being used by barn owls, and we would ask that anyone that has put up a nest box to let us know,” said Mr. Lusby.
Kerry County Council in Support
The biodiversity officer of Kerry County Council says that the council is delighted to support the survey and hopes the project will ensure the iconic barn owl continues to form a part of the county’s biodiversity into the future.
BirdWatch Ireland also stress that barn owls are a protected species and can be very sensitive to disturbance and that potential nest sites should never be approached or interfered with in any way.
You can help the survey and conservation efforts by reporting any information that you have on barn owls in the county by visiting the BirdWatch Ireland website with a click on the link here: https://birdwatchireland.ie/our-work/surveys-research/research-monitoring/raptors/barn-owl-survey/
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