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  • Writer's pictureMarsh Farm Glamping

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

We are extremely lucky, here at Marsh Farm Glamping, to be blessed with an abundance of birdlife. From skylarks to sedge warblers and chiffchaffs to chaffinches, their tweets, chirps, chirrups, coos and too-wit too-woos brighten up our days and provide the background to our daily lives.

In this series I am going to introduce you to some of the familiar faces we see, or at least hear, here on the farm. I am going to start with the iconic barn owl.

A barn owl with its heart-shaped face looking at the camera
Tyto alba - The Barn Owl

We saw a barn owl on the very first day that we moved into Marsh Farm. We were sitting on the stoep (or porch) enjoying a celebratory glass of wine, when a silent ghostly shape glided right across the yard in front of us. We were amazed and enchanted, and somewhat awe-inspired. What was this magical place we had arrived at? Since then, I have been lucky enough to see a barn owl flying over the meadow in the middle of a summer’s afternoon, whilst I was lying outside our shepherd hut (digging holes for a percolation test, no less).

So what do we know about these elusive and mysterious birds, with their charming heart-shaped faces, and silent flight?

A Somerset barn owl in flight

According to the RSPB, there are currently approximately 4,000 breeding pairs in the UK. Once widespread, modern farming methods have impacted the barn owl population due to the removal of hedgerows, meadowlands and field headlands. Weighing around 300g and with a lifespan of around 4 years, barn owls are easy to identify by their beautiful beige-grey backs and pure white undersides. Plus that heart-shaped face, of course!

Surviving on a diet of small mammals - usually field voles, mice, shrews, voles and rats  - they can catch 3-4 each a night. They also like to hunt in rough grassland and hay meadows – just like that surrounding the hut for part of the year.

Their breeding season is March to August and they lay between 4-6 eggs using a method called ‘asynchronous hatching’. This is where they start incubating the eggs as soon as they are laid (rather than waiting to lay the whole clutch, then starting incubation). The result is that the eggs can hatch up to 3 weeks apart. The benefit of this is a reduction in food and prey demand. We have an owl box up in the magnificent ancient oak that overlooks the hut, and who knows, maybe there are some nesting up there right now, as I type.

A close up of s Somerset barn owl

There are so many fascinating facts about barn owls, that I can’t possibly include them all here – do check out the excellent Barn Owl Trust for information on how they raise their young (owlets), what their method of hunting is, and for examples of their screechy, shrieky, eerie calls! There’s also a great identification guide on there too.

So, if you're coming to stay for a night, or two, or even longer, do keep an eye out for these stunning birds gliding past whilst you’re relaxing outdoors around the firepit, or maybe enjoying an al fresco lunch. And if you are lucky enough to see a barn owl in Somerset, please do let us know! We’d love to hear about your sightings whilst staying with us x

Please feel free to add comments and questions below!

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