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‘Average’ barn owl season estimated for Essex as March cold spell takes toll

PUBLISHED: 06:14 26 August 2018 | UPDATED: 07:50 26 August 2018

Pat and Simon Cox with some  barn owl chicks at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBB

Pat and Simon Cox with some barn owl chicks at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBB

Peter Webb

An Essex farmholder believes ‘every little helps’ after seeing the successful ringing of three barn owl chicks.

Pat Cox with a barn owl chick at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBBPat Cox with a barn owl chick at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBB

Peter Webb, of Gamekeeper’s Cottage, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Maldon, and wife, Mary, were delighted after licensed ringer Simon Cox climbed up to the highest owl box in the barn and found three healthy young birds.

“Back on the ground, they were weighed, checked for their sex, age determined and the lightweight ring fitted to one leg,” said Peter.

“All this was carried out with the young bird resting on its back, totally unphased and relaxed - in only a few minutes, all three owls were returned safely to the box.

“I have three owl boxes on the holding, but unfortunately the other two housed a grey squirrel and a pair of stock doves.”

A barn owl chick at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBBA barn owl chick at Peter and Mary Webb's farm site at Tolleshunt D'Arcy Picture: PETER WEBB

Peter estimates that the haybarn box, fitted 23 years ago, had reared an average of two owls a year. meaning his smallholding had helped the threatened farm bird in a “significant way”. “When I check regularly the bat boxes, bird nesting boxes, field margins , the butterfly bushes and the small copse of native trees, I feel that in some amateur way we are at one with nature, putting something back into wildlife after a lifetime of taking out.”

Simon, who has British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Natural England ringing permits, has ringed owls at the site in 2015, 2016 and 2018, this year visiting in July.

“In 2017, the owls nested as usual - Peter says a pair has nested there for some 20 years - but the chicks died before fledging so he is pleased things are going well this time,” he said. “As at ringing, the chicks were six to seven weeks old and they typically make their first attempts at flying at about eight weeks and become independent by about 10 weeks.

“The box that the owls normally choose to nest in is one that is being monitored by Essex Wildlife Trust who are promoting barn wwls through the Living Landscapes scheme. However this particular box is very high up in the barn and the regular monitors are not insured to climb ladders to that height so it tends to fall to me to check it.”

Simon, who goes all over the county to ring the birds, said he had ringed about 100 - at least an average count - this season. “I think there were a few birds that suffered in the cold spell in March and were not in a condition to breed, or if they did, bred late.”

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