What to do when you find an owl chick


• Hunting habitats are essential to the success of artificial nest sites, and so habitat creation such as field margins and set aside for voles, woodland cover for wood mice, insecticide-free field habitats for invertebrates etc  are crucial to the success of these boxes and baskets. Without a reliable source of food, breeding success will be very limited.

• Natural material can be put inside nest boxes to provide material for a scrape e.g., leaf mulch, shredded paper etc - (Nb. Do not use sawdust as this can be harmful to birds if swallowed)

• Boxes may not always be used, but if they remain in place, they can provide a roost for owls during the winter and eventually may be used if an existing natural site is lost.

• Boxes can often be occupied by unwelcome squatters, such as squirrels, jackdaws etc. Once this has been positively established, these unwelcome guests should be evicted asap to ensure the box is available for the target species of owl.

• Owl nest boxes are unlikely to be used for breeding unless there is suitable habitats nearby. Click here for advice on habitats.

• Owls are low-flying birds and nest boxes for barn, tawny and little owls only need to be 6 - 12 ft off the ground. Boxes in danger of being interfered with by vandals should be positioned higher, with this in mind.

• Tawny owl, little owl and long-eared owl chicks all leave the nest at 3 - 4 weeks and will adventure away from the nest - provision should be made for this natural behaviour.

• Barn owl chicks do not ‘branch’ in the same way as the other species, and will only be fed by the parents in the nest, so any chicks found on the floor will need rescuing. Click here for advice on finding chicks.

• To establish if a nest site is being used, it is necessary to observe quietly the box/basket in the breeding season from a non-intrusive distance, and preferably under camouflage.  An adult observed bringing food to the nest would either be a male delivering food to a brooding female, or male/female delivering food to chicks - this will be confirmed by loud hissing from the chicks on receiving food (louder as they get older). Branched chicks will call for food from the tree canopy and will be found and fed by the parents.

Advice on owl nest boxes

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Independent wildlife educator and owl specialist Ian McGuire