Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why Barn Owls are better parents than Tawny Owls

Happy New Year everyone. I’ve been mainly watching this pair of barn owls and their chicks between Christmas and New Year. It has made me think about how they treat their young in comparison to how tawny owls treat theirs.

 The chicks are virtually indistinguishable from the adults now - but they are much cheekier - always playing games and tussling with each other and their feathers look a bit 'fresher' than the adults who have been rearing young since May!

The adult barn owl pair had a second brood of 3 chicks in September and I was expecting these chicks to be long gone by now. But the adults are more than happy to share the food that I put out for them with their youngsters and I hear them making regular contact calls with their young too.

This is completely different to the pair of tawny owls that I follow. Tawny owls only ever have one brood a year in early summer. And youngsters are always chased out of the territory by their parents from early Autumn onwards. Tawny owls are fiercely territorial and once the nights start drawing in their attitude to their own kin turns to aggression as they see them as intruders on their patch.

Only 30% of juvenile barn owls survive. The survival rate of juvenile tawny owls is unknown but 76.8% of adult tawny owls survive annually. Perhaps tawny owls chicks are just more robust and need less care. Perhaps barn owls need to care for their young longer in order for them to survive. Or could it be that barn owls are just a more placid, caring and less aggressively territorial bird of prey?

I’ll be interested to see how the relationship changes between the barn owls and their now full grown chicks. I have seen these adult barn owls courting in February and last year this pair were laying eggs in March. So it's all about to change, so watch this space!

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