Wet wind worry

February 24, 2020

A quick post today to see despite the great news of our local barn owls pairing up properly in the last week and now very much roosting together - I remain really worried about them at present.

We seem to be living in a stuck Jetstream right now. Produced and strengthened, I hear, by the cold air mass over North America (whether that is directly attributable to anthropogenically-accelerated climate change would be another discussion) and this has resulted in a very strong Jetstream sat right over us, for weeks.

High winds (20MPH plus and gusting regularly at over 40MPH), driving rain and floods seem now, after the last month or so, to be an everyday occurrence.

And this is a REAL problem for our barn owls.


Firstly, our British Barn owls are pretty-well the most northerly examples of their species (Tyto alba alba) in the world. In fact... I think I was taken to see the most northerly breeding barn owl pair in the world at the tip of north Scotland, when I was about 16. They're right on the edge of their range here.

And there's a reason for that.

They're basically pretty [email protected] in the rain. And [email protected] in the wind too. Which is all they get for days (or weeks, currently) at a time here in the UK!



Barn owls are especially reliant on their superb hearing to hunt. They need to hear their vole prey rustle in the tussocky meadows they hunt over. Which is fine, most of the time. Unless it's blowing a hoolie - in which case, ALL the tussocks are rustling and they can hear bugger all voles over all that racket.



Barn owls fly silently. Like small, round, floaty ghosts. They manage this because of their exceptionally-soft feathers, which are not very oily and therefore not very waterproof. These feathers don't tend to work well in the rain. So barn owls really don't hunt well in the rain. They'd rather not even get wet to be honest... let alone wet for any period of time, whilst hunting in a mon-pigging-soon.


Again, at present it feels like we have been living in a wet wind tunnel for the past few weeks - so much so in fact that I am constantly remarking to my eldest son (who watches the local barn owls with me) that I'm amazed they're still alive. They must be STARVING every other night at least, right now - and I'm convinced that if this bleeding awful* weather doesn't change soon, they'll (our local pair) give up any attempt at breeding this year before they've even started - many birds do this (including my favourites, swifts) - what's the point of risking everything to bring up a family if you can't even find enough food for yourself.


I'm even, right now, tentatively considering breaking the golden rule with wildlife watching - that is to get involved. I'm starting to consider buying a bag of frozen weaner rats from a pet food store - with a view to defrosting one or two and wedging them on top of one of our owls' favourite posts during windy nights.

There are inherent risks with that sort of idea though - as there are with any "feeding wildlife" ideas. 

Firstly you are getting involved, unnaturally - you are unnaturally managing a natural system. You are therefore OBLIGED to not have that wildlife reliant on your actions. Nor should you effectively lure your wildlife out to your unnatural food and therefore put them at risk.

With regards to feeding wild barn owls defrosted weaner rats, you should realise that barn owls probably won't take unnatural, dead, white, cold baby rats at first anyway - unless they discover by accident that they're edible.

They need to be defrosted safely. Overnight, in a fridge. Not at room temperature or hotter or worse still in a microwave. Then they should be put on the owls' favourite perch within 24 hours.

Finally you should never get the owls used to the idea that they could come out in the driving rain to pick up your food from the perch. This could waterlog their feathers and kill them.

A lot to think about eh?

But right now... with this awful* weather seeming to be never-bleeding-ending - I am considering it...




*awful weather:    Someone (Christ knows who) once said "There's no such thing as bad weather. Just a bad choice of clothes".

What bull.


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