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Barn Owls breed again at Gosforth Nature Reserve

14th August 2020

This summer marked a major milestone for Gosforth Nature Reserve as the first Barn Owls in over forty years returned to breed on site

Barn Owl at Gosforth Nature Reserve © Rick Thornton

Barn Owl Chicks © Philip Jordan

A pair of Barn Owls have successfully bred at Gosforth Nature Reserve (GNR) for the first time since the 1970’s. Their return marking the welcome resurgence of this iconic species in the heart of Newcastle and delighting many visitors to the reserve throughout the summer.

Local ornithologists and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringers, Philip Jordan and Jane Gray, have monitored the pair tirelessly since their discovery and have confirmed that the birds successfully raised four chicks at the reserve this season. Great news for a species which in the not too distant past was encountered regularly on site.

Philip Jordan, NHSN Ornithologist writes:

We’d visited the nest site on the day lockdown was announced and a Stock Dove flew out.  When wvisited again in mid-May, a very different bird flew out.  ‘Barn Owl!’ I whispered in disbelief.  Cautiously looking in, I saw a sea of owl pellets and a female standing over four eggs. 

Five weeks later, she was standing over four owlets.  She already had a ring.  She had been ringed as a nestling in 2019…in Cambridgeshire!  We ringed three of the chicks – the fourth was too small.  We were able to ring it a fortnight later when it had caught up a bit with its siblings. 

The adults are clearly hunting successfully.  

What makes the return of owls to the reserve truly remarkable is the story of the female, known as GV92583. Information sourced by ornithologist, Phil Hanmer suggests GV92583 has made an incredible journey to reach GNR – travelling 320 km from Cambridgeshire where she was ringed as a nestling last July.

Dr Chris Redfern,  NHSN Ornithology Section-Lead writes:

It is excellent to have Barn Owls breeding in the reserve, but a real bonus to discover that the female, captured in the nest just 15 days short of its first birthday, was ringed as a nestling in Cambridgeshire -b320 km away.

Long-distance movements such as this are unusual for Barn Owls: less than 5% of young Barn Owls disperse over distances more than 100 km, so this is a really special bird to have moved over 300 km to breed in the North East!

Female Barn Owl © Philip Jordan

The owls are the latest in a string of species to return to Gosforth Nature Reserve following the resurgence of Red Squirrel and red-list Willow Tit in 2018, and Water Vole in 2019. These species are supported by conservation work carried out by a small army of dedicated NHSN volunteers and with the creation of a new management plan to protect the reserve’s wildlife for years to come, it is our hope that they will thrive long into the future.

Gosforth Nature Reserve is open again for you to enjoy.  Lucky visitors to the reserve may encounter Barn Owl right across the site, with previous sightings from the Pearce and Ridley Hides and others catching sight of the adults hunting over the nearby fields. The reserve is currently open to NHSN members only to limit contact between volunteers and visitors. You can find out more and plan your visit here.