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8 April 2014

Duhallow Raptor Report 2012-13 now available to download

The Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project Report, 2012-13 is now available for free to download. It shows the results from the major two year project on Raptors in Duhallow, including detailed information on all the fieldwork, nest box and publicity aspects to the work.

Summary: In 2012 the Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project (2012 – 2013) was established to undertake innovative and strategic monitoring of Barn Owls, Long-eared Owls and Kestrels in Duhallow to further our understanding of their conservation requirements and to increase awareness and appreciation of their populations.

Some of the highlights of the Report include:

 Strategic work was undertaken in three 10 x 10km survey squares to determine densities of owl species. A density of 2.6 breeding pairs of Barn Owl per 100km2 was recorded -  higher than similar findings elsewhere in the country.

A buildings survey for Barn Owls in the three 10 x 10km survey squares found a site availability of 14.6 suitable buildings per 100km2 and located seven nest sites and 13 roost sites. 

 An innovative playback and acoustic survey was also employed for Long-eared Owl for the first time in Ireland. A total of six breeding sites and seven active territories were confirmed across the three survey squares, representing a minimum density of 4.3 Long-eared Owl territories per 100km2.  

The general and strategic survey confirmed a total of 70 raptor nest sites and territories in the study area in 2012, which included 29 nest sites, nine occupied territories and 32 roost sites. 

Of 35 Barn Owl sites in Duhallow, 20 were confirmed nesting sites and 15 were regular roosts. 

In 2012, a total of eight Long-eared Owl nest sites were located and an additional nine occupied territories, and a single Kestrel breeding attempt and 17 roosts.  

A total of 68 raptor nest sites and territories were confirmed in the study area in 2013, which included 33 nest sites, 11 occupied territories and 24 roost sites. 

Of 40 Barn Owl sites, 24 were confirmed nest sites and 15 were regular roosts. 

A total of 18 active Long-eared Owl sites was recorded in 2013. Eight were nest sites and nine were occupied territories from 2012 which were resurveyed in 2013, of which only one was active. One new nest site was also located. 

One known Kestrel nest site and two occupied territories were also located in 2013 and nine roost sites recorded.

Monitoring of the 20 confirmed Barn Owl nest sites during the breeding season 2012 revealed that 13 (65%) were successful, while the remaining seven (35%) failing to fledge young. 

A breeding success of 66.6% was recorded at six known breeding attempts for Long-eared Owl with an average brood size of 2.2 young per brood.

Seventeen Barn Owl sites remained active in 2013 (an occupancy rate of 85%) though nesting took place at only three of these (a success rate of 17.6% of occupied nest sites). 

From eight active Long-eared Owl nest sites in 2013, six remained active in 2013 (an occupancy rate of 75%), though all failed to breed. 

Nest boxes
One of the first formal nest box schemes for Barn Owls and Kestrels in Ireland was undertaken for this Project. A total of 44 artificial nest sites have now been installed in Duhallow including 29 Barn Owl boxes and 15 Kestrel boxes, representing one of the highest densities in the country. 

An awareness campaign was also managed throughout the project, and the work was publicised through posters (162), and a wide range of events and presentations (16), articles in newspapers and magazines (16), and features on websites (8). 

This blog was also set up in March 2012 to make the project accessible to the general public. A total of 155 posts with information, photos and footage were featured, which attracted 37,506 page views from over 20 countries.  

A documentary on the project was also filmed for “Living the Wildlife” which aired on RTE in April 2013 and was repeated in December 2013.

To download the full report, go to this page HERE. (Opens a new window, on, where you can view and download the file. File size is 7.9Mb).

22 January 2014

Road casualties mount

Barn Owl road casualty, Co. Kerry, November 2013 (M.O'Clery).

Several Barn Owl road casualties have been reported over the past months, each a blow to a population which has been diminished by a record poor breeding season in 2013. The new bypass in Tralee has claimed one, and another, reported to us yesterday, was also killed by a car.

This one had a ring on its' leg, and a check of the records revealed that it had been ringed as an adult female, by John Lusby, on 27th June 2013 at a nest site near Kenmare. Last summer, she had just one chick in the nest, one of the few we were able to find in south Kerry last summer. She was found dead by the roadside just 9km WSW from the nest site, on the outskirts of Kenmare, 149 days after it was ringed. A sad end to a beautiful bird.

20 January 2014

New nest boxes

Mid-winter, and a good time to install some more Barn Owl boxes. Below, the Rolls Royce of nest boxes, due to be trialled in Ireland this summer.

The box was made by the Acquired Brain Injury group in Castleisland, Co. Kerry, for placement at an outdoor site, attached to a tall wooden pole. This design has been successful in parts of Britain, especially in areas that have good hunting habitat for the owls, but no suitable indoor nest sites nearby. 

Most Barn Owl nest boxes in Ireland are of the indoor type, as outdoor boxes are much more vulnerable to storms, they need outdoor materials (such as marine ply) and are thus more expensive to make. 

10 December 2013

Raptor talk in Newmarket

Merlin (Photo: John Fox).

John Lusby, Raptor Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, will be giving a talk on Ireland's smallest falcon, the Merlin. It is to be held on Wednesday 18th December 2013 at the James O'Keeffe Building, Newmarket, Duhallow, at 19:00. Admission is free.

For information on the James O'Keeffe Building, and how to get there, visit this website HERE (opens a new window).

John has been conducting a ground-breaking survey on this elusive species, one of the rarest breeding raptors in Ireland.

24 November 2013

Winter roost

Barn Owl roosting in a garage, south Kerry, November 2013.

Barn Owls must forage much further for food in winter, and radio-tracking studies have shown that they can travel up to 7 km from their nest site in winter. This bird was recently frequenting the inside of a garage over a two week period, roosting on a pile of turf. It's unusual to have one visit such an open site, as they will normally try to hide away during the day.

(with thanks to Pat McDaid)

15 October 2013

Farm 'improvements'

Rich meadow before, pasture monoculture after, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

It was a bit of a shock to return to one of our Barn Owl sites in Co. Kerry to find the whole area had been 'improved'. Instead of several large, rich meadows of grasses and wildflowers, the entire area has been bulldozed and resown, hedgerows uprooted and one of the best areas for Barn Owls in the county was now reduced to a single enormous, relatively sterile pasture. 

Gone are the flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets, Skylarks will no longer breed, and all the butterflies and damselflies are no more. Unseen, in the miniature understory of the waist-deep meadow grasses, would have been many field mice and voles upon which Barn Owls, Kestrels and Long-eared Owls would have fed. All are now gone.

Demolished Barn Owl roost, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

What is more, the derelict house on the edge of this area which housed a roosting Barn Owl for many years (and several bats) has been demolished.

There is still an active Barn Owl nest site nearby, but like many other sites in the country, the pair failed to produce any young in summer 2013, due to the exceptionally cold spring. We will continue to monitor the nest site, but the pair may struggle to find enough food now that one of the largest areas of productive hunting for them has effectively been removed.

Cattle numbers in Ireland rose 4.4 percent and sheep by 9 percent in the past year (link), so pressure on marginal farmland is greater than ever, but as so often happens, wildlife comes out second best.

24 September 2013

Young Kestrels disperse

By now, all our Kestrel nests have been empty for some weeks, and this years' fledglings will have dispersed away from their nesting areas. Some will travel tens of kilometers, some much further. One adventurous Kestrel ringed in Co. Kerry in 2009 was found later that year in the north of France. They are also generally more widespread in autumn and winter as young birds wander in search of food, and eventually their own territories.

During a boat trip to look for unusual seabirds in August of this year, a young Kestrel was seen flying over the boat, traveling in a north easterly direction, from the open ocean toward the Blasket Islands, some 5 km distant. Where this bird had come from is anyone's guess, but it would be nice to think a French bird might have made it to Ireland!

Juvenile Kestrel, hunting along a beach near Castlegregory, Co. Kerry, 24th September 2013 (M. O'Clery)

If you get a close look at a Kestrel at this time of year it is possible to differentiate young birds from adult females (though they look very similar). Look for the frosty whitish tips to the outer wing feathers, much less pronounced on adult females. They can be clearly seen in this photo (Photo: Michael O'Clery).

6 September 2013

Irish Times article on Barn Owls and rodenticides

A recent article in the Irish Times, highlighting the serious effect of rat poisons on Barn Owls and other birds of prey. See the article HERE.

5 September 2013

Altitude not a problem for Barn Owls

In the early days of the national Barn Owl Survey in Ireland, it was thought that the owls were predominantly a lowland species, and initially at least, areas over 150m were not included in surveys. However, after 10km squares in Co. Kerry were surveyed in 2008 and 2009, it quickly became clear that altitude was not necessarily a limiting factor for Barn Owls after all. 

We now know, thanks to some of the earlier survey work, and the recent studies in Duhallow, that there are in fact many sites on higher ground. Here is one such example, discovered by survey work just a couple of days ago. It is one of the highest buildings on this hill in E. Kerry, reached by a long, narrow, long-forgotten lane. Inside were several pellets and a few Barn Owl feathers, signs that it had recently been used as a roost. It was at an altitude of 190 metres.

Cottage high on a hill, Co. Kerry, September 2013 (Photo: M.O'Clery).

In Duhallow we have recorded 9 sites that are over 200 metres altitude, and of these, 4 have been active nest sites. The highest nest was at 245 metres. The highest roost found to date is close to Ballydesmond, at 305 metres altitude. It seems that habitat in these higher areas is suitable for Barn Owls to hunt in, especially where rough grassland, forestry edge and plantations occur, so the true limiting factor seems to be the height at which old and derelict cottages occur. There are in fact very few building above the 300 metre contour anywhere in the study area, but, where there are suitable derelict buildings and good nearby habitat, regardless of altitude, Barn Owls can occur.

2 September 2013

Initial results of the 2013 Duhallow Barn Owl Survey

As field work for the 2013 Barn Owl breeding season winds down, the results of the monitoring of known nest sites makes for rather gloomy reading. All known sites in Duhallow were monitored and/or visited during the season, often many times. Full and detailed results will be posted here soon, but a summary of results to date are as follows: 

Nest productivity

Duhallow 2013 – Total 21 sites – 3 pairs nested – 6 chicks.
Average chicks per nest - 2.0.

By far the poorest breeding season to date, and the number of chicks produced per active nest in Duhallow (2.0) was a little below average. The corresponding figures for Duhallow in 2012 were:

Duhallow 2012 - Total 20 sites - 13 pairs nested - 20 chicks.
Average chicks per nest - 2.16.

A Duhallow Barn Owl site where birds nested in 2012, but not in 2013 (Photo: M.O'Clery).

A site in Kerry which shared several aspects with other Barn Owl sites around the country during the 2013 breeding season – a pair present, the nest site secure and undisturbed, but birds didn't nest. Courtship between the pair continued well into August before petering out late in the month (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Nest occupancy

Of the 21 Duhallow known nest sites, only one was apparently abandoned, with no activity detected there for at least a year. Of the 18 sites in Duhallow where breeding didn't take place, pairs of owls were known to be still present at 10, at least one owl was still present at 6, and recent activity was detected at 1 other.

The high number of sites still occupied by Barn Owls is encouraging despite the poor breeding season.

A male and female Barn Owl caught and ringed at another site in Kerry. Although the signs were good all through the spring, they failed to breed (Photo: M.O'Clery).

Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project
The Duhallow Raptor Conservation Project is funded by IRD Duhallow through the Leader Programme 2007 - 2013.

Barn Owl monitoring in Kerry
Kerry County Council and the Heritage Council have once again given support to allow this study to continue.