COLUMN: Look out there’s an owl on the prowl


A couple of years ago there was a national poll to discover which bird was felt by the public to best represent the UK. Maybe no real surprise, the robin won, but did you see which bird came second? It was the barn owl.

With all our arable fields, Lincolnshire is a great part of the country to see barn owls. You are most likely to spot one hunting alongside the road. The grass verges have an abundance of the mice and voles that they like to eat. They fly slowly up and down, both looking for movement in the grass, but also using their incredible sense of hearing to detect their prey. They well adapted for this, having one ear higher on their head than the other. .

Alas, this roadside hunting does also mean they sometimes get hit by cars and lorries. They have further been affected by the removal of old farm buildings where they nest. But farmers, pleased by their habit of eating vermin, have been great in their support. You can often now see wooden boxes on poles, dotted across the local landscape. These are nesting boxes for the owls, put up by farmers to encourage them to nest and raise chicks. There are plenty of places for them to hunt too. Any patch of rough grass -a verge, a field margin or a fallow field will hold the rodents they like to eat.

Now you might think you’d have to look for the owls at night. After all, that is when owls hunt, isn’t it? But barn owls are much more flexible. Mornings and evenings are popular with them too. Each winter at the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh we have the 4 o’clock owl, which often hunts outside the visitor centre at that time. But they can sometimes be seen in the middle of the day too, especially when they are finding food to feed chicks, or at this time of year when the nights are so short. So keep your eyes open for an owl on the prowl.