Blickling's barn owls

One of our licensed ornithologists prepares to ring young barn owls © David Lewis

One of our licensed ornithologists prepares to ring young barn owls

We're lucky to have a number of barn owls which call the Blickling Estate home.

Blickling Park has all that a barn owl needs. Small mammals like mice and voles thrive in the grasslands and provide a good supply of food. Old trees and some of the buildings providing ideal nesting sites.

They're often seen hunting near to the pyramid mausoleum in the Great Wood, which was planted for John Hobart, Second Earl of Buckinghamshire, in the eighteenth century. He made a significant contribution to the planting of woodland on the estate and many of these trees still survive today.

Their great age means that the trees have plenty of cavities and holes for barn owls to nest in.

Hobart suffered from gout and one day put his painful foot into some ice cold water, which resulted in a fatal heart attack. Ironically, he did not seem to know that according to folk medicine, a poultice made from a female barn owl was a treatment for gout.

A specialist hunter

The Tyto Alba (also known as the White Owl) is present on most continents of the world and is well known for its distinctive appearance when flying and perching. It has large forward-pointing eyes for seeing in poor light and its ears are positioned slightly out of line so that they can accurately pin-point noises made by prey.

The barn owl flies silent and slow to catch its prey.  It is able to remain stationary on the lightest of head winds and seems to hover and glide as it searches its hunting grounds.  When it spots something nice to eat, you'll see a brief wing beat and a feet-forward thrust into vegetation.

Like most predators the barn owl is not always successful and may have to make several attempts to catch its food. Although more usually seen at dusk, barn owls will hunt during the day if they have young to feed, if the weather has been wet and windy, or if there is a covering of snow. Barn owls do not store much fat and so need to hunt all the time to stay alive.

Wing span

The barn owl’s wings are larger than its body, giving it a large wing span for its size. A mallard, on the other hand has a smaller wingspan-to-body ratio. If I was a mallard weighing 75kg I would need a wingspan of 6m to fly from pond to pond but if I was a barn owl I would need a wingspan of 18m to fly silent and slow.