Wildlife Wednesdays: The Barn Owl.
Of the five owl species regularly spotted in Britain, the one that most people readily recognise would be the barn owl. However, there are many superstitions surrounding this mysterious bird and there is more to owls than just Harry Potter.
Did you know that the barn owl is often referred to as the ghost owl? Or that a natural phenomena makes them glow in the dark?
As the nights draw darker and halloween is celebrated across the county, we asked our resident wildlife expert, Andrew Whitelee of Verdant Wildlife tours, all about this mysterious bird of prey, and where you might be able to spot one in Nottinghamshire.
Myths and Beliefs
Throughout history the owl has been feared and revered in equal measure by many civilisations from the ancient Greeks who saw owls as symbols of wisdom, to Romans who thought that hearing an owl meant a death was imminent. The American Indians had many myths involving owls, some tribes believed owls to be a good omen and others that they were harbingers of sickness and death.
In Britain we also have many beliefs about owls. In parts of Wales it is said that if a pregnant woman hears an owl her child will be blessed, and in Yorkshire the belief is that owl broth will cure whooping cough (don’t try this at home!).
Also owls are known for being able to turn their heads a long way and have a habit of watching things intently, so it was thought that you could make an owl wring its own neck by walking round it in circles.
Barn owls in Nottinghamshire
This iconic countryside bird suffered large declines in the 20th Century mainly through habitat loss and use of rodenticides, but with the banning of certain pesticides and farmers taking up environmental schemes the numbers are slowly increasing again. Barn owls are widespread throughout Nottinghamshire, although in relatively small numbers so, may turn up more or less anywhere rural.
There are now over 100 owl boxes throughout the country and the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust run an Adopt a Barn Owl scheme. Look for them in areas such as farmland, open country, meadows and rough grassy areas alongside roads and rivers or you may even catch a glimpse of one in your vehicle headlights as you drive along country roads at night. However, there are some local “hotspots” where you can increase your chances of seeing this magnificent creature such as the Vale of Belvoir, Rushcliffe or the Trent Valley.
If you do go looking for owls, dusk and dawn are the best time to spot them. Remember to wear dark clothes, take a torch and be careful not to disturb any birds you do see at all, as owls are protected.
If you’re keen to see birds of prey in Nottinghamshire, why not take one of Andrew’s guided tours for a chance to spot a barn owl in its natural habitat?
For guaranteed owl spotting, you can also visit Manor Farm & Woodlands, who lovingly care for a variety of birds (including Bernie, Midnight and Nutmeg, the resident Barn Owls!).