Egg-cellent news from the East Cleveland Barn Owl Project

ICL Boulby sponsors all manner of community projects and endeavours – football teams, dance clubs, social support hubs, classes for those with disabilities or learning difficulties. Oh, and we nearly forgot barn owls!

Obviously, they can’t apply to our community fund for assistance but the good people of the East Cleveland Barn Owl Project do that on their behalf.

Twelve years ago ‘owl man’ Colin Gibson, a man fascinated by these enigmatic birds, decided to do something to tackle the problems facing the breed which were leading to their decline. Their favourite nesting places – barns and ash trees with holes and cavities in the bark – were disappearing rapidly. The former to modernisation and conversion to holiday cottages, the latter to trees being felled as a result of ash die-back disease.

So, we’ve been chipping in to help Colin and his band of keen volunteers build and install nesting boxes to give these birds somewhere safe to raise chicks. Working alongside the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust the project has installed around 150 nest boxes in East Cleveland. 57 of these are occupied this year, we have boxes on our site at Boulby. Another 100 or so boxes are around the rest of Cleveland and down into North Yorkshire. 40 of these are also occupied.

We got in touch with the ‘owl man’ himself to get his views on how things were going this year.

“We think this is a fantastic result, although the final numbers are not yet in over 200 barn owl chicks have been ringed to date. One of the boxes installed at Boulby, which is a very good site, is hosting a nesting pair of owls which already has three chicks in it at about five weeks old. In another few weeks they will be able to fly, then they will take to the wing with mum and dad to learn to hunt,” he said.

“This site is perfect as it is secure and a lot of the ground is undisturbed so it is an ideal habitat for owls and wildlife in general.”

Which is good news for owls but bad news for rodents. For every chick dad has to provide about six sources of food every day. Field voles are the preferred meal but if there is a shortage then shrews are next on the menu. Working at an owl exchange rate of one vole equals two shrews – that’s a lot of rodents.

We hope to bring you up to date when Colin and his crew have made a final tally of how many chicks have been successfully raised.