Cotswold Owl Rescue Trust

Caring For Wild Owls In The Cotswolds

Registered Charity: 1061750

Wild Or Tame? What is the difference?

Wild owls: Are owls which have had no direct human contact, having been born in the wild with wild parents. These owls do not become tame and are stressed by too much contact with humans. It is best in our opinion to treat these owls as quickly as possible and return them to their natural habitat. We believe that quality of life is paramount and do not condemn any permanently injured wild owls to life in an aviary when they are used to flying free.

Captive bred owls: are owls that have been born in captivity from captive bred parents and are usually imprinted at an early age so that they are tame and handle-able. For this reason captive bred owls are used for talks, but we do not take in these birds as a rule. Captive bred owls can never be placed into the wild.

Imprinting of owlets: by over handling so that they become tame is not recommended with a wild owl. This is only done with captive bred owls so that training and handling is easier when they are older. When trying to rear orphaned wild owlets imprinting can interfere with breeding at a later stage and so must be avoided. The imprinted owlet grows up to think that it is human rather than an owl, so when it is sexually mature it may affect the breeding instinct. To avoid this we have very little contact with any owlets brought to us, preferring to crèche-rear with other owlets. Feeding with a glove puppet in a seclusion aviary or placing them with a foster mother of their own species until about 16 weeks is prefered.

Territory: is an important factor. Not all owls live in the woods like the tawny and the long eared. Some are marsh birds like the short eared owl or meadow birds like the barn owl, so care has to be taken when choosing a release site. For example, releasing a barn owl into a heavily wooded area will do the recovering owl no favours at all, as it would most likely be mobbed by crows and tawny owls. Although barn owls do nest on some woodland fringes it is always best to put them on suitable meadow or rough pasture. Likewise releasing a tawny owl in the middle of a large open park with no tree cover will provide no roost site and leave the newly recovered owl prone to mobbing by birds.

Barn Owl Numbers:

There are estimated to be about 3,300 Breeding Pairs of Barn owls in England. This is based on the Hawk and Owl Trust figures for 2000. and located as follows: North of England - 450 pairs. Midlands - 875 pairs. East of England - 420 pairs. South west England - 1,075 pairs and South East - 459 pairs.

However, nobody knows for sure. The only reliable UK Barn Owl survey estimated the population at almost 4,000 pairs (+/- 30%) in 1995-1997

From 1997 to 2009 the number of Barn Owl sightings recorded by the BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) increased dramatically – strongly suggesting a population increase. Since 2009 BBS has recorded a 63% decline in Barn Owl sightings. However, BBS is only a daytime survey. Its reliability as an index of Barn Owl abundance is debatable, particularly as an increase in Barn Owl sightings by day is usually a sign that the birds are struggling to find enough food. An entirely separate project, the Barn Owl Monitoring Program, recorded a 50% drop in the number of nests in the period 2000 to 2009 but this figure is also thought to be unrepresentative. In summary, nobody knows how many Barn Owls there are in the UK. Population estimates produced since 2000 are not reliable.

The Barn Owl is still listed as a bird of ‘Conservation Concern’ in the recently published Birdlife International (2017) European Birds of Conservation Concern. However in 2015, Barn Owl was moved from the Amber List in Birds of Conservation Concern 4 to the Green List – not because of any change in the UK population level but simply because an updated European Birds of Conservation Concern (SPEC) list was not available at the time.

Information courtesy of the Barn Owl Trust