Baby barn owl wiped out on Limavady Road after epic flight

The barn owl that died on the Limavady Road. Picture by Sandy Osborough.
The barn owl that died on the Limavady Road. Picture by Sandy Osborough.

A baby barn owl flew a record-breaking 220 miles from Kerry to Londonderry only to be wiped out on the Limavady Road.

The bird was picked up by Brian Hegarty, a volunteer barn owl fieldworker with Ulster Wildlife, and identified by the special metal ring on its leg which was fitted as a chick last July, at its nest site near Farranfore, Co. Kerry by John Lusby from BirdWatch Ireland.

It had flown almost double the distance of any previously recorded barn owl within Ireland.

“I couldn’t quite believe the news when Brian contacted me,” said John. “The bird was one of four chicks that we ringed at a traditional nest site in Kerry in July 2015. The resident pair uses a nest box which we provided some years back, and they have bred here successfully every year since.

“The ringing of barn owl chicks and their subsequent recovery has provided us with a wealth of information on their dispersal. With over 600 barn owls ringed to date in Ireland, this is the longest dispersal recorded of any of the barn owls we have ringed yet,” John added.

After their first winter, juvenile barn owls disperse from where they hatched to establish their home range where they hunt, roost and breed. Barn owls are very site-loyal and many will never leave their home range.

According to BirdWatch Ireland, the average dispersal distance in Ireland is approximately 35km (21 miles). The majority settle just a few miles away from where they hatched and only a small minority move such a long way. During dispersal, juvenile barn owls are vulnerable to man-made hazards, with over 30% dying on major roads.

Catherine Fegan, Barn Owl Officer with Ulster Wildlife said, “It is very sad that this juvenile travelled so far to end up as road victim. However, this new information shows how important ringing chicks is to further understanding barn owl behaviour in Ireland. With less than 30 to 50 breeding pairs left in Northern Ireland, movement of birds from the Republic could help boost our tiny population, if they are lucky enough to survive their first year.”

The Kerry barn owl is now being sent for testing to determine whether the bird had been exposed to rodenticides. Over 80% of barn owls in Ireland have detectable levels of rodenticide in their system, which is believed to be a key factor in their decline.

To find out more about barn owls in Northern Ireland, what practical actions you can take to help this endangered bird, or to report a sighting, dead or alive, visit www.ulsterwildlife.org/barnowl