Amongst the most beautiful of our native birds is the mysterious barn owl. If you're lucky you'll see them quartering the ground at twilight, ghost-like in their delicate flight low over the fields in their hunt for small mammals.
|one of the successful chicks reared in a RuBOP box|
It is their pale, cream coloured appearance combined with an almost butterfly-like flight that contributes to their mystery. I contend that all nocturnal creatures seem mysterious to those of us who inhabit the diurnal world.
Barn owls' distinctive faces allow them to gather sounds, enabling them to detect the tiniest rustling and their (hidden) slightly asymmetric ears allow them to use almost laser accuracy in their hunting.
|the head gardener and a baby barn owl|
But, of course, they are under threat: changing land use denies them food; the loss of formerly derelict farm buildings has lost the birds their nesting sites - and the increase of traffic has meant that they are frequently killed whilst hunting along roadside verges.
But, amongst the heroes of nature conservation are those teams (or one man bands) who site barn owl nesting boxes in safe areas to encourage breeding. There are a number of these groups and we know from first-hand experience how effective they can be. We spent a wonderful afternoon some time ago with the wildlife legend that is Howard Broughton and the Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project (RuBOP) who do their good work in the south of Nottinghamshire. Starting from 'scratch' in 1996, by 2015 they had sited 150 nest boxes and ringed their 1000th chick!!
|barn owl box|
And this success washes over into other areas. We have recently had a number of local reports of barn owls and so have got the permission of a local barn owner to site a barn owl box overlooking fields where barn owls have been seen.
So, I turn to my bird box 'bible' which is my well-thumbed copy of Chris Du Feu's BTO guide to bird boxes. My book is so worn that the pages fall out when it is opened.
The book tells me that an old tea chest will do as a nest site if the the nest box site is indoors and away from the weather. How many of use have old tea chests to hand? They're certainly not stacked up at Cordwood.
But I have a collection of scrap wood that I use for my nest boxes. And several pieces of old sterling board (compressed and glued wood shavings) have been winking at me for some time. Now we add my rudimentary skills and here comes the sterling boards moment for glory!!
I've made the box, slurped creosote on, and now just wait for a moment to site it.
You might be able to imagine the fanfare that would erupt if this were to be successful.
If barn owls were to quarter the wildflower meadow and prairie beds here, the reaction would be measured on the Richter Scale. Don't take out extra buildings insurance yet though.