Marwell Wildlife, which own and operate Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, has been carrying out its annual barn owl checks on its land surrounding the zoo and is celebrating six healthy chicks which have been recorded on the Marwell estate this year.
The six healthy, and fluffy, owlets come from two breeding pairs on the estate and include three female and three male, aged between five to seven weeks old.
The checks involved detailed measurements to include the weight, wing feather development, body condition and wing length, as well as noting any unique markings, which help to determine each chick’s age and gender.
The owlets were then ringed, to identify each owl in the future, and returned safely to the nest boxes by Dr Matt Stevens, conservation biologist from the Hawk Conservancy Trust and Rob Nicholls, countryside manager at South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).
Marwell has successfully supported 16 owlets since 2014, when it started working with the SDNPA and the Hawk Conservancy Trust to monitor Barn owl populations within the local landscape as part of the Barn Owl Box scheme (Project BOB). The scheme records the breeding success and aims to understand the survival and wider movements of barn owls.
As part of Marwell’s ongoing commitment to restore habitats, the charity manages the 45 hectares of chalk grassland on the Marwell estate using traditional meadow management approaches, which creates an ideal hunting habitat for this important farmland bird.
Dr Martin Wilkie, Conservation Biologist at Marwell Wildlife, said: “We’ve consistently got better results with more owlets each year, and to have two breeding pairs using nest boxes in close proximity to each other is testament that our traditional meadow management approach is not only working, but is proving very successful!”
Marwell has three barn owl nest boxes within 1.2km from each other. To help create an ideal habitat, Marwell does not use any fertiliser or pesticide on the land whatsoever.
What’s more, the conservation team purposefully harvest the grass later than normal, usually mid-July instead of early June, to allow the natural habitat to flourish. Dr Matt Stevens from the Hawk Conservancy Trust said, “The quality of the habitat at the Marwell estate is particularly good. This enables common prey, such as field voles, shrews and mice, plenty of cover and allows their numbers to build up, providing an excellent food supply for barn owls and their young.”