Birds – Barn Owls
‘How to Entice Barn Owls to your Farm?’
They’re known as “the farmer’s friend” because they eat rodents such as wood mice, pygmy shrews and rats. But barn owls are struggling in Ireland – there’s been a 50% decline in the last 25 years. How can farmers help to restore barn owls to their land? Wildlife expert & tillage farmer, Paul Moore, explains how he brought them back to his 140-acre farm in Midleton, Cork. This is a 14-minute podcast from the Groundtips series. To listen just click below, then like, share, review.
Barn Owls still need our help and there is much that farmers can do.
Go rodenticide free In one study, over 80% of Irish Barn Owls that were tested after being found dead as road casualties had traces of rat poison in their blood. This is from birds feeding on dying or sluggish rats and mice that have eaten poison. Using other methods of control such as cage traps or break traps should all be considered and always adhere to the Responsible use of Rodenticides code of practice.
Check your farmyard hygiene is also of critical importance, preventing rodent access to feedstuffs is the best control method!
Provide a nest box Barn Owls nest in cavities in old buildings or mature trees. There are not enough of these nest sites available in some areas so Barn Owls will often use a properly mounted nest box. The box should be at least 3 metres high with direct easy access to the front of the box and in a quiet undisturbed spot, either a barn or large tree.
Provide hunting habitat Barn Owls feed mainly on small mammals so leaving areas of rough uncut grassland around your farm favoured by field mice, voles and shrews is of great benefit for owls. Field margins with long grass beside a mature or untidy hedgerow are ideal or an unmown strip along the side of farm tracks are very suitable areas. Buffer strips by waterways, a requirement now for many farms, can also be great hunting habitat for Owls.
Put in wild bird cover (or winter bird food as it’s known in the ACRES scheme) while sown for seed eating birds is also attractive to small mammals and therefore of great benefit to Owls also.
Set up perches for hunting In a disused corner of a field stack a couple of large straw bales. These are attractive to mice which will burrow into them. Owls will use the bales as a perch from which to hunt from.
Do your research Before putting up a nest box, there are plenty of short videos online (YouTube) how to construct a Barn Owl nest box.
About Paul Moore
Paul Moore runs a tillage and beef farm near Middleton county Cork. The mixed 140-acre farm is comprised of 95 acres of tillage, producing malting barley, spring beans, winter barley and oilseed rape. Paul has recently began incorporating regenerative practices on the farm such as the use of multi-species cover crops, longer crop rotations and strip-tilling the spring beans. The remaining 45 acres is mature grassland and is used to produce 35 Hereford and Angus beef cattle. A wildlife and bird enthusiast all his life, Paul is passionate about nature conservation and managing habitats on his farm. Over the years he has planted trees on the land, managed hedgerows for birds, incorporated wildflower margins around field boundaries and increased the nature corridors where possible on the farm. The land is home to many bird species, many of whom are becoming scare in the Irish countryside. There are barn owls, stock doves, swifts, ravens, buzzards, reed buntings, yellowhammers, meadow pipits, stonechats, starlings, house sparrows and more. Foxes, stoats, shrews and rabbits are also a common sight on the farm. Paul is an advocate for an economically viable and productive farming system, that simultaneously protects farmland habitats and enhances biodiversity on Irish farms. “My whole mantra would be – you don’t have to manage a nature reserve, if every farmer did a little and did it properly, it would all add up and have an impact.” More information and a short film on Paul’s farm here. Ambassador since 2021
‘How I manage my land for healthy bird populations’
by Noel Kiernan
Wildlife exists on my farm in water, hedgerows and forestry, and grazed areas especially the callows. Below are my top tips how to manage this to help bird populations.
- Hedges should not be cut low, allowed to produce fruit and should have opportunities for nesting birds and insects. Fieldfare and redwing especially will benefit from this.
- The ponds– while they can be used for drinking, they mainly benefit amphibians along with water dwelling insects i.e. dragonflies, and the pond flora.
- The more fertile pastures should not be topped until plants are gone to seed i.e. nettles and thistles. Some fields should be left untopped in rotation.
- The callows benefit from being grazed heavily by Connemara ponies, the Lough Ree goats also graze here. It’s important that woody plants should not thrive here such as willow, birch, gorse, and perennial plants like meadowsweet. The ponies and the goats will control these plants, topping may be helpful also and they can be mowed for meadow in dry years. This management will benefit ground nesting birds like skylark, meadow pipit, cuckoo, snipe, warblers species, and if you’re lucky you may get lapwing and curlew to nest there too. Cattle can be grazed in July after the birds have hatched. This should be done in rotation with the ponies. This management also benefits plants like orchids and butterfly species (marsh fritillary).
- The management of lakes and rivers on the farm is less proactive because it often depends on outside influences upstream but I have tried to control the shooting of winter visiting birds like widgeon, teal, mallred, shoveler, and whooper swan.
- The forests are mixed, mainly native species, and are especially good for summer visiting birds, who take opportunity of the variety of food and nest sites.
About Noel Kiernan
Noel Kiernan farms 250 acres of mixed land – there is forestry, marsh, bogland, pasture and hay meadows. He is passionate about conservation in all forms – from native flora and fauna, to native Irish livestock breeds. He farms and breeds from Roscommon sheep and Bo Riacht cattle – playing a crucial role in ensuring the vitality of these old Irish breeds. The animals are a crucial element of Noels farming system as they graze the pasture and produce manure which fertilizes the soil – “Grazing is very important for certain rare species, such as curlew, corncrake, lapwing, skylark and other ground nesting birds, as well as flora like orchids. All those species have followed us as farmers through the ages and they have benefited from our farming activity. Now, the lack of that type of traditional farming activity means that many of those species will be in trouble because they won’t have suitable habitats.” Noel is a forester as well as a farmer and he is passionate about combining forestry and farming. There is 100 acres of native broadleaf forestry on the land and Noel runs a continuous forest cover system. The farm, also referred to as “Noel’s Ark”, holds an impressive array of habitats and wildlife, including but not limited to amphibians, lizards, pine martens, kingfishers, woodcocks, blackcaps, skylarks, marsh fritillary butterflies and various bee species. For years, Noel has dedicated his time and his land to farming in ways that protect and enhance biodiversity – “my farm is open to whatever birds want to come in.” More information and a film on Noel’s farm here. Ambassador since 2021
‘How Anthony Mooney attract birds to his Kildare Farm’
Podcast with Anthony Mooney
About Anthony Mooney
Anthony Mooney runs a 200-acre beef farm with the help of his wife Mary Rose and son Conor. The fertile limestone soil is well suited for growing high quality grass. Anthony runs a herd of between 70-100 cross-bred continental cattle. The grassland has not been reseeded in over 25 years – the permanent pasture contains a diverse range of grasses and flowering plants. Very few external inputs are used on the farm – chemical fertilizer hasn’t been used on the land in over 20 years and very little concentrate meal is fed to the animals. The multi-species hay meadows go to flower in the summer months, providing crucial habitats and food sources for various creatures. A wildlife enthusiast for much of his life, Anthony has spent years observing and recording different plant, bird and insect species on the land; “Over the past 2 years I have started targeting specific species on the farm that I thought needed help – birds, mammals, insects and plants. For example, we’ve been focusing on ground nesting birds like skylarks and meadow pipits – I delayed the mowing of a field last summer because there was a nesting skylark in one of the meadows.” There are 2 ponds on the land which create important water habitats for frogs, birds and insects. Trees and hedgerows are also important habitats on the farm – “I’ve put in around 600-700 meters of hedges on the farm. I’ve never taken out a hedge. I manage hedges for biodiversity. They are cut back every 4-5 years to encourage new growth.” More information on Anthony’s farm here. Ambassador since 2021.