Posted 13th Nov 2017
Image courtesy of © Richard Bowler
The barn owl is one of the most recognisable birds in the countryside, yet many of us have never actually seen one
If you've never seen one before, winter could be the ideal time of year to look. They will often extend their hunting hours into daylight as they look for the extra food they need to get them through the cold months.
Barn owls will famously hunt on silent wings, with a soft fringe along the outside of their flight feathers reducing the noise of their flight. This will help them to creep up on their prey unannounced, and will mean they are better suited to listen out for the rustling of small mammals amongst the grass, without the background noise of flapping.
Feeding almost exclusively on small mammals - 50 per cent of their food are made up of field voles - to stand the best chance of seeing one, you should look for areas of rough grassland, the vole's favourite habitat.
How to do it
Like many owls, barn owls find it harder to hunt in windy conditions, meaning still evenings will be the best chance to spot them. Scan sheltered fields in the lea of hedgerows - if a barnowl is hunting nearby, you can always to try to attract it by making a squeaking noise by kissing the back of your hand. The hunting owl could come over to see what's making the noise.
If you can't get to the special places listed below...
Barn owls are found throughout the UK's lowlands. Two other daytime hunting owls to look out for are the short-eared owl, which likes moorland and coastal flood meadows, and the diminutive little owls, who are especially keen hunters from veteran trees along old hedgerows.
Special spots Thanks to the work of the local drainage authorities, farmers and landowners who manage grassland edges, drains and field boundaries to benefit the field vole (the barn owl’s main prey) and put up nesting boxes, Lincolnshire has one of the highest densities of barn owls of any county in the country. Barn owls can be seen throughout the county on a number of Wildlife Trust nature reserves such as Willow Tree Fen and Gibraltar Point, as well as throughout the wider landscape as they hunt alongside ditches, tracks and roads, particularly at first dusk. At Vine House Farm in south Lincolnshire 13 pairs of barn owls bred in 2014, producing 63 young. Vine House Farm holds open days and farm walks where the lucky visitor may just catch a glimpse of these ghostly residents.
Avon, Folly Farm
Cambridgeshire, The Great Fen
Cambridgeshire, Grafham Water
Cambridgeshire, The Ouse Washes
Dorset, Lorton Meadows
Essex, Blue House Farm
Lancashire, Lunt Meadows
London, Frays Farm Meadows
Norfolk, Hickling Broad
Somerset, Westhay Moor
Suffolk, Hen Reedbeds
Suffolk, Snape Marshes
Wiltshire, Blakehill Farm
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts