A NEW project has been started to monitor one of Ulster’s best-loved birds which is now under threat.
The barn owl is one of the most recognisable birds but it is also one of the most endangered, with between 30 and 55 breeding pairs estimated to be left in Northern Ireland, according to the Ulster Wildlife Trust.
The animal charity said the main reason for the bird’s decline was the loss of suitable feeding and nesting sites – without adequate rough grassland there are fewer small mammals such as wood mice and pygmy shrews for the barn owl to feed on. Rough grassland also encourages small mammals to break cover from the hedgerows and woodlands where they are concentrated into areas where barn owls can hunt.
The Ulster Wildlife Trust has started a new project to find out how many barn owls are currently in Northern Ireland, and is particularly interested to find nests to monitor the young birds.
Barn owls are most often found in barns or old buildings, although their preferred nesting spot would be inside an old tree. They are most often seen flying at dusk or during the night.
Readers across the Province are asked to keep a look out for barn owls and report any sightings to the Ulster Wildlife Trust.
Envision, a local biodiversity project based in and around Maghera and Tobermore, has joined with the trust to lend their expertise and eyes in their area to the cause.
Their main task is working with the community to record biodiversity, archaeology and oral traditions.
Spokesman Pol Mac Cana said it was a chance for his group to help as barn owls would tend to be attracted to old buildings, of the type his project has an interest in.
“Loss of traditional vernacular buildings and outhouses from our countryside is a major heritage loss in itself, and it may be one of the main factors leading to the decline in the barn owl,” he said.
“As both the owls and the buildings represent quintessentially an important part of our traditional rural landscape, the Envision project would be very interested to hear of sightings of ‘white’ owls in the countryside and also of vernacular buildings and outhouses that might be used by them.”
If you have any information on barn owl nesting sites or would like to report a barn owl sighting anywhere across Northern Ireland, contact John Woolsey at the Ulster Wildlife Trust on 028 4483 3977 or email John Woolsey
Any reports will be treated with the utmost confidence.
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