Keeping rings on our barn owls

A baby barn owl
Published : 30 Jun 2016 Last update : 07 Jul 2016

The sight of a barn owl flying across the landscape hunting for prey, is something quite spectacular. With thousands of acres to explore, the parkland at Blickling is perfect hunting ground with plenty of nooks to set up home to grow the family.

Having known there was movement in a couple of owl boxes at Abel Heath Farm, the countryside team invited Phil Littler, member of the North West Norfolk Ringing Group, to come along and take a peek.

Ringing the nestlings

Phil discovered that there were three nestlings in the first box, ready for ringing.  The process of ringing helps to monitor the population and movement of birds, as well as their longevity.   It also means that there is more chance of recovery if an owl is sick or injured.   As a conservation charity, it's vital that we protect our landscapes, to help conserve one of the most beautiful birds alongside all the other animals that call the parkland 'home'.

Most Barn Owls are ringed as nestlings at between three and seven weeks old.  By measuring their wing span and looking at the development of their feathers, Phil confirmed that our Blickling babies at Abel Heath were just under three weeks old. 

At a barn along a country track on the estate, we came across another nestling, this time, around four weeks old.  As we arrived we saw the mother leaving the nest to find food, gliding silently across the field.

Measuring the wing span of a baby owl
Measuring the wing span with a ruler
Measuring the wing span of a baby owl

They’re so light to hold at this stage, and look so small, that it’s hard to believe they’ll be leaving the nest by the time they’re ten weeks. Even in three weeks, their recognisable feathers are starting to show through and by five weeks their piercing dark eyes are open and their feathers more defined.

" Owls are fairly sedentary creatures. They don’t ever really move further than five kilometres from where they first started."
- Phil Littler, North West Norfolk Ringing Group

Finding a good home

There are a number of owl boxes set up around the parkland for owls to mark as their own, while others will choose a more traditional nesting place, in an old tree.  Phil came across some even smaller babies in a tree nest that won't be ready for ringing for another few weeks.

At Abel Heath Farm, the boxes are close by in neighbouring barns which is ideal for the male. When the babies start to hatch the mother owl makes him leave and he has to find a new home.  If there’s a home nearby, he can set up there, and then the female can come and join him to start a second clutch.

We’ve set up owl cams to monitor their journey and see how they develop, so we’ll keep you posted.

The story so far...

03 Aug 16

Chicks soon to fledge

Phil came back to see us last week and check on our fluffy chicks. The owls are about two weeks short of fledging. Of the 90 sites Phil has visited this year, he’s found 37 chicks – six of them at Blickling. So the success rate for the estate is really good and we're sustaining a good owl population.

Two of our barn owl chicks
A barn owl in flight

Blickling Estate: a barn owls' home 

Find out why barn owls call Blickling Estate 'home' and how important it is to help conserve these beautiful birds.