Received some sad news yesterday from Jan Pritchard, bird ringer extraordinaire and all round feisty girl. One of the barn owls I ringed earlier in the year has been killed after being hit by a car near Ramsgate. Why had it flown to Ramsgate? The weather has been mild, why did it feel the need to go so far in search of food?
Every year I turn down requests from farmers who wish to put up a barn owl box on their land as they are too close to either major roads or railways. Barn Owls are drawn to such places to hunt because of the rough grassland along the verges which makes an ideal site for voles and mice. The birds then become dazzled by oncoming car headlights. Such large eyes are not meant for the glare of the modern world.
I know this, barn owls get killed on roads. A few times of year Jan sends me a grim list of ‘recoveries,’ birds who have been found dead and the details extracted from the ring placed around their leg. Among the list of birds drowned in water butts and found starved in boxes their are always a smattering of ‘road casualties’. But this time I felt differently. I wanted to go to Ramsgate and search the streets for a car with suspicious feathers attached to its radiator grill and say “why didn’t you see this bird, you moron? Why didn’t you brake in time?”
In a year when barn owl numbers have plummeted to their lowest in 50 years, casualties of a late cold spring, then my barn owls in Minster were one of the success stories. They had chosen a box I had put up myself (along with my band of volunteers). A box that everyone told me would never be accepted by barn owls, and yet this feisty pair of survivors had bred five healthy chicks there, which had all safely fledged.
In this there is some consolation. This barn owl had done it’s job. It had raised five healthy chicks and, with luck, they are out there now, hopefully stuffing their bellies full of voles in preparation for the winter ahead and maybe next year I will meet one of them again, in the same box, on the tree, on the marshes.