ROAD DEATHS: Ever increasing traffic on our roads is inflicting a heavy toll on our wildlife, including owls. Every year, thousands of young barn owls, on dispersal to new territories, are hit by cars as they hunt vole-rich verges on motorways and ‘A’ roads. Where waterways with rough grass banks cross busy roads, an owl hunting for voles and other small mammals follows the water up to the road and then is hit as it crosses - a Hawk and Owl Trust road mortality survey in the ‘80’s found that many owl casualties are found within 20 mtrs of these crossings. One way of avoiding this situation is to screen the road verges at these hot spots with trees to encourage the birds to fly high over the road and minimise the risk of collision with vehicles.
DROWNINGS: Owls have very soft feathers, which helps to give them silent flight. Unfortunately, the down side to this is that they absorb water like a sponge and so if they fall into water troughs or similar deep water containers, unless they can get straight back out, they will become waterlogged and will drown. You can help them by keeping these containers empty near nest sites, or by floating a bread tray or similar raft on the water. This will give the owl a chance of clawing back out if it falls in.
RODENTICIDES: Many barn owls carry higher than normal levels of rodenticide in their bloodstream as a result of rodent control near their nest sites.
SHOOTINGS: Every year short-eared owls on grouse moors are either deliberately or accidentally shot by grouse shooters or deliberately killed by gamekeepers. Long-eared owls in crow’s nests are sometimes killed during corvid control where the nests are blasted by shotguns.
STARVATION: This is the biggest killer of owls and is one that is easy for man to solve - make sure that they have food-rich hunting habitats all year and ensure these habitats are conserved.
See Advice on Habitats to see how you can help create hunting habitats for owls.
THE WEBSITE OF OWL SPECIALIST & WILDLIFE EDUCATOR IAN McGUIRE
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