Click on any of the main images for a closer view

Request for Barn Owl sightings

Barn Owl sightings
The Kerry Barn Owl Survey has been underway since 2008 and has made huge progress in understanding the distribution and nesting requirements of this elusive and endangered species. If you see a Barn Owl anywhere in Kerry, we'd be delighted to hear from you. Every sighting is important in understanding the habitats and areas which birds might use at different times of the year.
Barn Owl (Richard T. Mills)

If you see a Barn Owl, please let us know.
E-mail Michael O'Clery
or text Michael at 087 9711519
Barn Owl, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry, August 2009 (Eric Dempsey)

The Kerry Barn Owl Survey

Identifying a Barn Owl
There are only two owls in Ireland which you are at all likely to see - the Barn Owl, and the Long-eared Owl. The Long-eared Owl is streaked brown overall and frequents coniferous forest and woodland edges. The Barn Owl often looks white all over and frequents open fields and rough grassland, as well as around buildings and barns. In some light, Long-eared Owls can look very pale, but their face is always dark, while the face of a Barn Owl is white.

The calls of the two owls are distinctive:

Long-eared Owl - in spring a very low-pitched, “Hoo-hoooo...” In mid-summer, the young make a loud, squeaky call, like a squeaking hinge.

Barn Owl - in spring and summer, a high-pitched screech, often lasting about 2 seconds. The female, while sitting on eggs, and in mid- to late summer, the young, make a snoring sound, often persistently repeated.

What Barn Owls eat
The main prey of the Barn Owl in Kerry is small mammals, such as Wood Mouse, House Mouse, Rats, Shrews and Bank Voles. Some small birds such as Starling and House Sparrow are occasionally eaten, mainly in winter, though they form only a few percent of the diet.

How long Barn Owls live
Although birds in captivity can live to ten or more years, the average lifespan of a wild Barn Owl is three to four years.

A young Barn Owl, about 75 days old, being ringed at the nest (in an old chimney), Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry, August 2010 (M.O'Clery).

Where Barn Owls nest
Nests are in cavities, usually in man-made structures such as old barns, derelict houses, castles and ruins. The nest is usally deep in an inaccessable crevice or cavity in a wall, chimney or roofspace.

The percentage of nests in Ireland in large old hollow tree trunks is relatively small (about 5% of nests) compared with other countries, because of our wetter climate.

When they nest
Egg-laying usually starts around May, but can vary from between late April to early June, depending on the weather around that time. Up to five eggs can be laid, two days apart, though two or three eggs is most frequent.

The eggs take 32 days to hatch. During that time the female stays at the nest the whole time. While she incubates the eggs, the male feeds her at night, delivering prey items to her at the nest.

The young stay at the nest until they are about 65-70 days old, gradually becoming independent at about 70-75 days old. Some remain in the vicinity of the nest for many weeks, others leave very soon after fledging.

How mapping nest sites can help Barn Owls
A lack of nest sites is one of the main causes of the decline of the Barn Owl, and by finding current nest sites, we can begin to understand what the habitat and nesting requirements are in Kerry. We can also assess nearby areas for possible nestbox and roost sites, and place nestboxes in adjacent suitable areas for young Barn Owls to occupy.

The Kerry Barn Owl Survey has mapped the occurrence of Barn Owls from April 2008 to the end of 2011 (above). Large circles represent confirmed nests, medium = probable nesting, small = possible nesting. Black circles represent 3 sites, dark red = 2 sites and red = 1 site (M.O'Clery).

How nest boxes help Barn Owls
The male is not tolerated inside the nest by the female during the breeding season. He therefore stays at a nearby roost site, often a cavity or crevice similar to the nest site. Once the chicks are about three weeks old, the female also leaves the nest site and roosts during the day away from the chicks. It is vital therefore, in order that a nest is successful, that the adult owls can not only nest safely, but also roost nearby. Depending on the site, we try to provide two nest boxes, one for nesting and one for roosting.

Barn Owls and REPS
If you are a farmer involved with REPS, one of the requirements may be to provide nestboxes for birds. We can advise on the suitability and siting of Barn Owl nest boxes on your farm, and if it is found to be suitable, we may also be able to provide and install nest boxes free of charge. This is made possible by the generosity and sponsorship efforts of our BirdWatch Ireland Branch volunteers, who have raised money specifically for this project.

 Davey Farrar installing a Barn Owl nest box in a disused barn in east Kerry, November 2009. A single Barn Owl was using the box, at least temporarily, by the following September, and it or another was also present in March 2012 (M.O'Clery).

As Barn Owls are a fully protected species, the information we receive about Barn Owl sites is kept strictly confidential. We share the information only with BirdWatch Ireland staff, on a 'need-to-know' basis. Any other use of the information on nest sites is given only with the co-operation of the landowners on whose land the birds are nesting.

Studying Barn Owls
If we locate a Barn Owl nest, it may be possible to ring the chicks. This involves careful timing to access the nest without undue disturbance to the birds. After carefully removing the chicks from the nest for a short period, a small metal ring with a unique serial number is placed on the leg of each chick, and then the birds are returned safely to the nest. This is done under licence by trained BirdWatch Ireland staff. If the bird is encountered later, either by another ringer, or unfortunately, if the bird is found dead, it is then possible to find out much valuable information about how far the bird has travelled and how long it lived. 

Several birds have been found from the Kerry-ringed nestlings. Most travelled only a few kilometres from their birthplace, though some have travelled more widely, including one which made it as far as Clonakilty in Cork and another that within a week of fledging was found dead in Tipperary.

For more information on any aspect of this project, please contact Michael O’Clery, at Camp, (066) 7130005
Mobile/Text: 087 9711519