It’s a sad fact that many owls die every year as a result of starvation, accidents, disease, persecution or by other causes.

It’s estimated that over 5000 barn owls are killed on Britain’s roads every year, as well as many tawny owls and other species. Up to 75% of young barn owls are unlikely to survive beyond a year and two in three tawny owl chicks probably won’t survive the spring. Thousands die of starvation and are never found - in short, it’s tough being an owl in Britain.

One way conservationists try to keep track on the movements and survival of birds, including owls, is by the fitting of a numbered ring to chicks by licensed ringers.


The British Trust for Ornithology (B.T.O.) keep a record of all rings fitted to owls and when rings are recovered by the public from dead or injured birds, they use the data collected to map out survival rates, distribution, life expectancy, etc etc.

Because the rings are fitted to the chick at an early age, the bird is never aware of it’s existence, and because owls, unlike mammals, have no real sense of smell, the chicks can be handled freely with no risk that the parents will reject them when they are returned to the nest.

The more chicks that can be ringed, the greater amount of information can be gathered, so it is important for landowners to share knowledge with owl conservationists of owls that breed on their land  so that as many chicks as possible can be fitted with rings.


Although many owls die without ever being found by people, some of us will come across them from time to time. If you should find a dead owl here is some general advice on what you should do:

Note: Gloves should be worn when handling dead birds in case it has been poisoned.


If an owl is wearing a leg ring, you should do one of the following:

a) E-mail the details of the ring using the contact form on the Euring web site.

Euring co-ordinate bird ringing throughout Europe.

b) Contact the BTO Ringing Unit direct by ringing 01842750050 or by

e-mailing them at

The above organisations are unlikely to require the carcass, unless there is suspicion of poisoning - in this case, the bird can be placed in a bag and frozen in case it is needed as evidence - see note above about the use of gloves.


If the owl has no ring on it’s leg, local owl conservation groups may still be interested that you have found the bird, as they may be monitoring a local site, or may not realise that the species has been in the area.  The more information they have, the better.

For example, if a male owl is killed in the breeding season, it could affect the survival of it’s young if the female is left to raise the brood on her own, and so knowledge of a death gives local conservationists an opportunity to respond, if they are aware of a nearby nest site. Sometimes, supplementary feeding at the nest may be required to increase the chances of the young surviving.

Conservation groups can sometime lobby landowners and councils to provide screening if owls are killed at a regular accident spot on roads, advising these bodies to plant trees and encourage hunting owls to cross roads at a greater height and hence minimising collisions with traffic.  

In cases where owls or any other birds of prey may have been illegally shot or poisoned, local owl conservation groups can investigate and may request the local Police Wildlife Liaison Officer to investigate.

Nb. All this information refers to owls found in the United Kingdom.

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Independent wildlife educator and owl specialist Ian McGuire