Tawny owl 'baby boom' fed by rising vole numbers in Kielder Forest

There has been a tawny owl baby boom in Kielder Forest, Northumberland. Credit: PA

Wildlife experts have reported a mini-baby boom in the number of tawny owls being born in one of the most remote parts of the country.

Forestry England said 90 tawny pairs have had chicks in Kielder Forest, in Northumberland - up from just 25 last year.

An increase in the number of voles, which are the most important prey for tawny owls, has led to the rise.

The 63,000 hectare forest is home to the UK’s longest-running tawny owl project, which has now been going for nearly 45 years.

Over that time, Forestry England has installed 240 boxes in the trees to provide ready made homes and allow experts to monitor their welfare.

Thousands of chicks have also been ringed as part of the long-term scientific study, revealing, among other things, that some have gone on to live for more than 20 years.

Forestry England ornithologist Martin Davison said: “Chick numbers are linked to the vole population, which undergoes a natural cycle of boom and bust.

“When they are abundant, owls have more chicks.

“When they are scarce, many skip breeding and wait for better times.

“We’ve been working with Aberdeen University to chart this cycle with surveys so we anticipated a good year was just around the corner.

The number of chicks born is linked to the vole population. Credit: PA

“Long-term studies like this are research gold-dust. It’s shown that upland forests can support a thriving and stable tawny population when sensitively managed.

“It’s a tribute to the long-term skill and dedication of our foresters and ecologists.”

The project has also confirmed that tawnies are “home birds”, sometimes venturing as little as a quarter of a mile from their place of birth during their life.

Not only are chicks ringed with a unique identifier, but they are also weighed and have one of their wings measured.

“Young tawnies are very docile and it’s a painless experience for them. Looking like bundles of fluff, they always bring a smile to my face,” Mr Davison said.

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