It was a stroke of luck that just before I turned off my computer on Saturday night I had a last peek at Facebook and noticed Cristian Jensen’s update: Sunday morning they were going to be ringing Barn Owls at the Riet Vell Nature Reserve on the Ebro Delta! Well, I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to see these lovely birds close-up so we were up and out early on Sunday morning and made the trip down to the Delta. Incidentally, Cristian runs Audouin Birding – a birdguiding company offering tours in this region, throughout Spain and also abroad. Apart from being a really nice guy and very knowledgeable, he is also a licensed ringer for the SEO (Sociedad Española de Ornitología – similar to the RSPB)
Anyway – on to the Barn Owls – in the first building there were 5 young ones in the man-made nesting box. They were aged something like 5-7 weeks old. (The eggs are laid 2-3 days apart) You can see from the photos that there is an age difference as some still have a lot of fluffy down. The birds were amazingly passive whilst they were being ringed. I was able to gently stroke one and it was incredible! The softest thing I’ve ever touched!. It was an absolute treat to be able to see such beautiful birds close-up.
In the second building the breeding pair hadn’t been so successful. No chicks at all here. Broken egg shells indicated that the contents had been eaten -probably by a rat. Which is quite ironic given that the owls main diet is rats.
Rat skulls can be seen very clearly in the photo of the owl pellets that were picked up from the floor. So on this occasion the owls prey had become the predator! Sad but that’s nature.
We were also shown this interesting model of an owls face. This hasn’t been made as a piece of art though, it actually has a very important job. In the event of chicks being abandoned/parent birds being killed, this is used to shield the hand and pass food to the chicks through the whole in the “mouth”. I’m sure in a dark nest the chicks are easily fooled into thinking this is mum!
About Barn Owls in Catalonia
Barn Owls are generally present in all open agricultural places throughout Catalonia up to an altitude of 1,500 metres. However, the Ebro Delta is blessed with one of the highest breeding densities in all of Catalonia.. It is normal for them to breed twice a year here. The first brood at the end April and the second at the end of October. The survival of the Autumn brood can depend more on the weather than the availability of food. A rainy and windy spell in Autumn can affect the parent owl’s ability to find their prey as they do this by sound location.
In the past – like many raptors – the Barn Owl was persecuted by man. It was also affected by chemical products used in agriculture which diminished it’s fertility. The Barn Owl is now a protected species in Catalonia. Thanks to the legal protection along with a growing awareness of nature conservation and the provision of nest boxes the numbers have recovered. Once again the Barn Owl can often be seen at night flying silently over the rice fields in search of it’s prey.