Largest recorded brood of barn owls found in Antrim

Five chicks hatched in one nest, conservationist have said

The five  barn owl chicks  were found on the outskirts of Crumlin, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. Photograph: @Antrimlens/PA Wire

The five barn owl chicks were found on the outskirts of Crumlin, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. Photograph: @Antrimlens/PA Wire


The largest recorded brood of barn owls in Northern Ireland was born in Co Antrim early this month, conservationists have said.

The birth of the five chicks on the outskirts of Crumlin, Co Antrim, has been described as unprecedented.

The Ulster Wildlife Trust said it is the largest barn owl brood it has recorded in Northern Ireland.

Volunteer nest minder Ciarán Walsh made the discovery through cameras he set up at the remote site on the shores of Lough Neagh.

“It was on July 12th, at around 2.50am I saw three of the chicks out on the shelf,” he told the Press Association.

“Then the female came over with a mouse, and next thing another two chicks came out.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

Mr Walsh says with the chicks being born four weeks earlier than would normally be expected, he is cautiously hopeful the parent birds may even have a second brood this year.

He has been painstakingly feeding the parent birds throughout the storms of last autumn and the recent wet spring.

“They can’t hunt in the rain so I have been watching the weather and leaving them food when it has been wet,” he said.

“The female needs plenty of food, every egg takes 4 per cent of her body weight, it’s a big undertaking.”

Breeding pairs

Conor McKinney, living landscapes manager with the Ulster Wildlife Trust, described the brood as “unprecedented”.

“Barn owls in Northern Ireland aren’t doing particularly well, we only have about 50 breeding pairs according to stats that were produced back in the 1980s,” he said.

“We don’t really know what the situation is now but we know they are not as common as they should be,

“To have five barn owls in one nest site is unprecedented.

“We don’t know of any other nest sites that have produced quite as many chicks, and the great thing about the barn owl chicks here, in this area, is that we have loads of barn owl boxes so hopefully these chicks will find their way into a nest box later and they will have a nest site in the future.”

Mr McKinney paid tribute to Randox, which owns the land the nest site is on, for its sympathetic management of the land, ensuring rich food sources for wildlife.

He said North Down and the shores of Lough Neagh are where most barn owls are found, and urged anyone who knew of barn owls that might be under threat to contact the Ulster Wildlife Trust.

They are most commonly found in old barns or tree crevices.

“Unless we know where they are, then we can’t help them and we can’t conserve them as a species,” he said.

“If you know there are barn owls in your area, please come to us, we will be sensitive with your data. What we need to do is to record the sites so they will be protected.

“It’s too late picking up the phone after the tree has been cut down to protect the barn owl, but if you do it now while you know about it, we can help protect them.”

In Northern Ireland, barn owls are protected by the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or disturb the bird, the nest, the egg or the dependant young at any time. – PA