Breeding adult barn owls in Britain are largely sedentary. Young barn owls do not disperse very far, with a median dispersal distance of 12 km from the nest, while only about 4% of movements are over 100km. In mainland Europe, dispersal distances are greater, often more than 50km with over 10% going more than 100km. Most recoveries in Wales have been less than 20km from their ringing site, but there are some exceptions.
2007 – A bird ringed at a nest at Glenurquhart, Highland, in June 2007 was hit by a car 624km away at St Ishmael’s that December.
2021 – At the end of October, Richard Crossen found a dead barn owl at Castlemartin Corse. It had been ringed as a nestling in June 2021 at a site in the Towi valley, and so had moved 70km to coastal west
2021 – On November 7th, Andy Jones found the fresh remains of another barn owl on a farm just east of Lamphey. There wasn’t much of the bird left – only the legs – suggesting it had been predated. This one had been ringed as a nestling by the Mid-Wales Ringing Group at a site south-east of Machynlleth, 125km away!
PRITCHARD R, HUGHES J, SPENCE I M, HAYCOCK, B, BRENCHLEY A (Eds) 2020. The Birds of Wales. Liverpool University Press
The barn owl is a much admired and popular species, and its frequent use of artificial sites such as lofts and boxes for nesting, has led to them becoming the most comprehensively monitored of the owl species in UK as a whole.
Following major population declines during the 20th century there appears to have been a recovery in recent years (BTO Bird Atlas 2013). However, this apparent recovery is not evenly spread across all areas, and in the west of UK and in Ireland there is evidence of a range contraction and possibly an associated population decline.
In Pembrokeshire the status of barn owls has previously been described as “far from common” by both Mathew (1894) and Lockley (1949), while Lloyd (1925) considered them “uncommon” . A survey commissioned by RSPB in 1934 led to an estimate of 220 pairs in the county, and in Birds of Pembrokeshire (1994) Rees and Donovan suggest a total of around 100 pairs based on a general survey in 1984-88.
But what is the situation now? Read the full report:
All records of Barn Owl can be added to BirdTrack. If there is evidence of breeding, please select the appropriate code from the drop-down box. There is no need to enter a site to see evidence of breeding – an owl carrying food to a likely nesting place, or the calls of chicks are adequate evidence.
Barn Owls are thinly scattered across the county, mainly associated with farmland, particularly where there are good amounts of rough grazing. River valleys, such as those of the Western and Eastern Cleddau, are good areas for them. They mainly nest in farm buildings, and even old semi-ruined buildings can also be important. They can also use crevices in natural cliffs and quarries. Being a Schedule 1 species (under the Wildlife and Countryside Act) they are afforded extra protection measures, such locations need to be considered carefully in development planning applications.
They will readily utilise artificial nest sites provided in appropriate locations, including nest boxes placed in modern farm buildings or in trees. Being mainly nocturnal, Barn Owls can be difficult to locate. However, breeding adults can often be seen out hunting before dark when they are feeding young, gracefully flitting along hedgerows and grassy areas in search of rodents.
Due to recording difficulties, the atlas tetrad maps probably under-estimate their true distribution. Nevertheless, the number of tetrads in which they were recorded was actually very similar in both atlas periods.
With annual fluctuations in breeding success, mainly linked to cycles in vole populations, it is very difficult to estimate Barn Owl population levels without detailed study. It was considered that there were around 100 breeding pairs in Pembrokeshire in 1984-88, based on the number of tetrads where they were found.
During the first atlas survey a large proportion of the records of Barn Owls came by talking to farmers, something that was also important during 2003-07.
With an absence of more detailed methods of estimating the population, the overall population is considered to be similar to that of the earlier period. The total number of tetrads with confirmed and probable breeding was higher than that of the earlier atlas period, so the actual breeding population may have been higher.
Since the 1980s, winters have been generally milder so winter survival of Barn Owls may also have improved. More detailed surveys are needed to refine ways of estimating population levels.
Bob Haycock (BTO rep & Chairman of the Pembs Bird Group)
“A resident far from common” wrote Mathew (1894), an assessment with which Lockley et al. (1949) agreed. Lloyd entered “uncommon in Pembrokeshire” in his diary for 1925, and Saunders (1976) remarked that the Barn Owl seems never to have been particularly common in Pembrokeshire.
Nonetheless, Blaker (1934), who conducted a survey of England and Wales on behalf of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, estimated that there were 220 pairs in Pembrokeshire (a total derived from Blaker’s map by C. Shawyer, pers. comm.). The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found more Barn Owls than was expected at the outset, probably over 100 pairs. A large proportion of the sites were brought to light by talking to farmers and it is possible that others might be revealed could more landowners be canvassed.
Both Mathew and Lockley et al. noted nesting in cliff crevices on the mainland and islands of Skomer, Caldey and St Margaret’s. They have since been only occasional visitors to the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey but have nested in the cliffs at Pen Beni and Dinas Fawr.
Mathew noted two instances of communal roosting, or what he termed an “owlery”. One in the roof of a country house contained about a dozen adults, besides owlets in various stages of growth. The other, in the connected roof space of a row of cottages, contained between 40 and 50 Barn Owls. The only modern equivalent record concerns 12 seen emerging from the ruins of Butterhill Mansion in 1987.
Since it is only occasionally seen hunting in the twilight in Pembrokeshire, and more often at night passing through the headlight beams of cars, this species is easily overlooked, although it will hunt in broad daylight following snowfalls.
The Winter Atlas showed that Barn Owls were recorded in 14 out of 27 of the county’s 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84.
The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square. The darkest blue represents over 3 birds recorded in a day.
This species can be difficult to detect in the winter when it is mainly nocturnal and silent, which despite being a resident, has resulted in a 40% lower registration than in the 1970 breeding atlas survey.
Strix flammea(Tyto alba) – TYLLUAN WEN – A resident far from common.
In driving about the county we have very seldom seen any of these Owls beating the fields for mice in the dusk of a summer’s eve. We had one or two inhabiting some old ivy-covered ash trees in the covers at Stone Hall, and occasionally saw one flushed when we were shooting through woods in the north of the county, but we believe in Pembrokeshire the majority of the Barn Owls find their abodes in nooks and crannies in cliffs, both inland and on the coast. We were informed that Barn Owls are numerous on Skomer Island, there inhabiting such places as we have described. The Rev. C. M. Phelps knew of a colony of Barn Owls in the Coygan, a huge mass of lime- stone rock, close to Laugharne Marsh. The old castles, such as Carew, Pembroke, &c, also afford, in their ivy-clad ruins, suitable nesting places.
Although the Barn Owl is generally a solitary recluse, we have, in our experience, met with two instances of its living in society in such numbers that the association might fairly be termed an “Owlery.” One of these had its location in some old cottages, just below a beautiful Henry VII. church tower. The roofs of the cottages all communicated, and were tenanted by such a number of Barn Owls that at last the cottagers rose up against them, being annoyed by the smell and the noises proceeding from the birds, and we were informed that between forty and fifty were either driven out or destroyed.
The other instance of an “Owlery” occurred in the roof of a country house, where the venerable birds might not have been undisturbed had they kept themselves from the young Pheasants, whose coops were at no distance from the house. But one season when every one of the young Pheasants had been carried off war was proclaimed, and the roof entered, and about a dozen adult Owls were found and killed, besides Owlets in various stages of growth. The floor was discovered to be littered over with the remains of the Pheasants. Tell it not in Gath!
Mr. Dix writes that in his district the Barn Owl was “not common; I have only seen two specimens during the past year.”
Tyto alba – TYLLUAN WEN – Breeding resident 1984-88 Breeding confirmed 31 Breeding probable 11 Breeding possible 68 No of tetrads occupied 110 (of 478) Percentage of tetrads 23% “A resident far from common” wrote Mathew (1894), an assessment with which Lockley et al. (1949) agreed. Lloyd entered “uncommon in Pembrokeshire” in his diary for 1925, and […]
Tyto alba – TYLLUAN WEN – Breeding resident. The Winter Atlas showed that Barn Owls were recorded in 14 out of 27 of the county’s 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84. The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square. The darkest blue represents over 3 birds recorded […]