Building Barn Owl Boxes at Cossington Meadows

Iain Tidmarsh

Conservation Officer Chris Hill shares how building and installing barn owl boxes increased barn owl breeding at Cossington Meadows Nature Reserve.

Building & placing barn owl boxes

We noticed Barn owls were occasionally breeding at Cossington Meadows nature reserve and on an adjoining property in the early 2000s. To attract the owls to remain on-site and to continue to breed, we began building and placing barn owl boxes in suitable trees.

While there is no exact science to positioning and building a barn owl box, they do need to be high enough to avoid unwanted attention from humans and low enough to be safely accessed by a ladder.

Most owl boxes that are bought online usually do not come with any waterproof shielding. So when we acquired our owl boxes we added waterproof felt for protective covering to increase the boxes' longevity.

Before we positioned our boxes, we made sure that any modifications were stable and complete to ensure we did not have to keep going back to repair the box and disturb any possible house guests!

Finding suitable places for the boxes was a challenge; Cossington Meadows does not yet have a suitable supply of mature trees as most of the land was quarried during the '80s and '90s and there are no buildings to attach the boxes to. The boxes also needed to be situated far away from human disturbances, especially public footpaths, of which Cossington Meadows has many!

After successfully locating our trees, and building a few stands, we positioned our boxes.

Barn owl box success

During the first few years of positioning the barn owl boxes, we did not see any evidence of breeding. Although individual birds were recorded using the boxes... Then with much-anticipated excitement in June 2015, a single chick was recorded to have been laid in one of our barn owl boxes.

Since then, the boxes have gone from strength to strength. Last year 2019 saw a reserve record of twelve chicks fledging, which is an all-time success.

Swan Meadow Juvs

Owl chicks at Cossington Meadows

Unfortunately, 2020 has been an unproductive year. Three eggs were recorded to have been laid in a box at Cossington Meadows but were sadly abandoned by the parents. This may have been because of the flooding experienced earlier in the year, flooding can have a large impact on the availability of prey species and if adult owls feel there will not be enough food around to feed their young, they may delay egg-laying until prey numbers increase.

Barn Owl ringing

Owl Ringing

Cossington Meadows Fledglings

All fledglings at Cossington Meadows are ringed, so it is possible to track their journeys and transitions into adult life. In the past, we have tracked our owl fledgelings in Newark, Nottingham, Thrussington, and along the River Wreake.

Recently, one was found breeding in a box at Elston, south of Newark. It's great to know that our birds are finding their way in the world and our work to conserve this truly wonderful bird is proving successful.