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Post Info TOPIC: Species in Focus - Little Owl.

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RE: Species in Focus - Little Owl.

There numbers seem to be down just over the Derbyshire border as well, quite a few of the old sites are vacant this year

Mike Price http://www.pdrmg.co.uk/ http://arnfieldbirds.blogspot.com/

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I like your use of the phrase "upland fringe", Bill.
It describes both my preferred birdwatching habitat and my receding hairline

I'm afraid my sightings of Little Owl have receded as well - I haven't managed to find proof of confirmed breeding in four years of atlas surveying. Casual sightings are much rarer as well. Haven't given up though!

Cheers, Steve

Steve "Make your birdwatching count!"

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Our last atlas publication (BBGM) stated that "although it is reasonably widespread it is not abundant". Little Owl then occupied 101 (31%) of the available tetrads and was confirmed as a breeding species in 49 of these. So have numbers remained relatively stable since then or has it declined in keeping with many other species primarily associated with farmland? The Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) indicates that this species has shown a statistically significant decline of 22% in England for the period 1995 to 2008. Our records at the end of the third breeding season (2010) of our current atlas project in GM also make for further gloomy reading. Breeding had been confirmed in just 19 tetrads, which represents only 39% of the BBGM total. Records from 2008 to 2010 report confirmed breeding between 10th May (occupied nest - code ON) and 25th August (fledged, dependent young - code FL)....so a lengthy enough time span for us in which to try to confirm breeding.

Are we looking in the right places for this species and indeed where might be the best places to look for breeding pairs? Well, Little Owls are regarded as being largely sedentary birds. So firstly if we are fortunate enough to be able to see them regularly in any part of GM throughout the winter months, then almost certainly they will also be there in the summer months......but quietly going about their breeding activities! Earlier mention was made to this species and farmland but are we correct in assuming that this is its favoured habitat? Is it possible that we are overlooking pairs in other areas, notably the upland fringes where dry-stone walls and quarries may provide this species with a more than adequate choice of nesting sites?

A bit of information on their breeding activities would indicate that they are usually single-brooded and data from the BTO Nest Record Scheme shows a laying date range between 14th April and 4th May, incubation is around 27 to 28 days, with young fledging after an additional 30 to 35 days, although sometimes this can be longer. Young are fed for up to one month after fledging. As mentioned a little earlier, this should give us bird watchers a relatively large window in which to confirm breeding. Juveniles do look sufficiently different from adult birds to make picking them out possible - in very simple terms looking duller and lacking the white speckles on the crown and streaking on the breast of adult birds. One interesting final point to ponder is that when the young do eventually disperse after becoming independent, then most are thought to settle within 10 km of their birthplace. So if we know of a pair or pairs that are successfully producing young every year, have we considered that their offspring may also now be breeding in suitable habitat fairly close by? A quick look around any tetrads adjacent to those where breeding has already been confirmed may well bring reward with the additional confirmation of breeding pairs in neighbouring tetrads.

Enjoy your birding and many thanks for your help.

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