Have you seen a Barn Owl, know of a Barn Owl nest site or have installed a Barn Owl nest box in Meath? If the answer is “yes”, then we’d love to hear from you! To report this information to BirdWatch Ireland, please visit: http://bit.ly/BarnOwlSurvey-BirdWatchIreland
Many years ago, before the intensification of agriculture and the widespread deployment of anticoagulant rodenticides, the Barn Owl was a much more common sight throughout Meath. Over recent decades, Barn Owl populations have suffered widespread declines and are now a Red-listed Bird of Conservation Concern in Ireland. As a top predator and sentinel species for the health of our countryside, these declines in Barn Owl populations caused great worry. The intensification of agricultural practices resulted in the loss of suitable Barn Owl 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 toxicity of anti-coagulant rodenticides, and the expansion of major road networks are likely to be the main factors which have driven the declines in the Barn Owl populations across Ireland.
In recent years, the fortunes of Barn Owls appear to be turning a corner in many parts of Ireland. Barn Owl pairs have moved into nest boxes provided for them and re-established in old ruins which have not held Barn Owls for many years, especially in the south-west of the country. One of the reasons for this recovery may be due to the range expansion of non-native small mammal species, the Greater White-toothed Shrew and the Bank Vole, both of which are favoured prey of the Barn Owl and are now widespread throughout Munster and parts of Leinster and Connacht.
The Barn Owl survey in Meath aims to establish how Barn Owls are currently faring in the county.
The project, a collaboration between Birdwatch Ireland, the BirdWatch Ireland Meath Branch and Meath County Council Heritage Section, is funded by the Heritage Council and Meath County Council as an action of the County Meath Heritage Plan. 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 Barn Owl population.
To assist the survey efforts, BirdWatch Ireland are requesting information on Barn Owls in the county. Alan McCarthy, Barn Owl Research Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, explained the citizen science element of the survey, “It is an unforgettable experience to glimpse the ghostly white figure of the Barn Owl floating silently through the night sky, or to hear their eerie screeches and peculiar snoring calls. Anybody who has been lucky enough to experience this for themselves 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 in Meath“.
Terrance Cassidy of the Meath BirdWatch Ireland branch said, “We are delighted to be involved in the County Meath Barn Owl Survey this year and it will be great to get an up-to-date picture of how the Barn Owl population is faring in our county. The survey will give us a good foundation for our future conservation work, including the installation of more Barn Owl nest boxes in the most suitable areas, and where it will benefit Barn Owls the most”.
Loreto Guinan, Heritage Officer with Meath County Council added “We are delighted to be working with Birdwatch Ireland and the local Meath BirdWatch Ireland branch on this survey, which is supported by the Heritage Council and Meath County Council. We are encouraging the public to get involved and to share their local knowledge and report sightings of Barn Owls in Meath”.
John Lusby of BirdWatch Ireland commented “It is a really interesting and important time to be focusing on Barn Owls in County Meath, it is a county where Barn Owls have not fared well over recent decades and in fact there are very few active nest sites that we are aware of across the county. However, in recent years it seems that things are changing, and we will hopefully confirm that this is the case and look towards a brighter future for Barn Owl populations in the county”.
You can help the survey and conservation efforts by reporting any information that you have on Barn Owls in the county by visiting here or visit the BirdWatch Ireland website.
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.