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little owls

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Old Wednesday 20th February 2019, 19:09   #1
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little owls

I live in Surrey. Talking with local birders, we have all noticed a dramatic decline in the number of little owls in our area. I think that the decline set in at about the time of the very hard winters (2012 and 13, I think they were). According to Birdtrack, reporting rates are now down to about 1/3 of their historic average levels. My mates and I reckon that the decline around SE Surrey is more like 90%.
I would be interested to know whether people in other parts of the UK have noticed marked declines in little owl numbers. And also if anyone has any theories as to what is happening.
There do seem to be rather more barn owls about in the last few years but do they predate little owls to a significant extent?
Another theory is that increasing buzzard nos. have impacted the no. of little owls. Or perhaps they have made the little owls more cautious about perching openly.
Thoughts?
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Old Wednesday 20th February 2019, 20:19   #2
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Just quickly and briefly...certainly a big drop off in numbers in Devon in last ten years from what I've heard. Don't know if they were ever that numerous in Cornwall but I don't hear of many sightings at all down here. However, in my short visits to County Durham in the last ten years I know they can still be seen in most of the places I knew them from as a kid growing up there thirty years ago.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 03:35   #3
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Still seem to be around in normal numbers in Richmond Park in London part of Surrey.

I would have though Barn Owl taking one would be very unusual if it happens at all.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 05:22   #4
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Significant and continued decline both in the Somerset atlas and since as part of an ongoing survey.

On my patch, outside the Somerset recording area and in the former county of Avon, I used to have five or six locations to see Little Owls but I now have none - though they are present in lower numbers and I continue to bump into a few annually.

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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 07:19   #5
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I asked my experienced ringing trainer about this a while ago, and if I remember correctly, he said from his own experience of Little Owl, he related it to the decline in Starlings, he would find lots of Starling corpses (I think he said specifically juveniles, but I can’t be sure) around nests, and when the Starling dropped significantly the Owls did too.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 07:36   #6
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Slight decline in Northumbs, but still reasonable numbers. They've always been fairly scarce up here though, at the northern limit of their range (think there's maybe just a very few just over the border in SE Scotland).
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 16:38   #7
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I was going to suggest another possible reason for declines in some areas (and the continuing good numbers in Richmond Park with its mature trees might support this), in the Geneva canton of Switzerland the species was also in severe decline and the lack of old trees with nice Little Owl-sized holes was considered as a potential cause. Since the installation of nestboxes around the canton in the last few years there has been a spectacular recovery, so much so that I understand the Geneva area now has the highest density of the species in Switzerland.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 18:17   #8
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Quite plausible given today's risk-averse culture where trees with holes are considered to be a deadly peril
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Old Thursday 21st February 2019, 19:43   #9
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Not sure on numbers but interesting that one of local little owls was taken over by a barn owl and made larger, though the little owl just moved into a near by tree
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 07:00   #10
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thanks for all the replies.
It's not really possible to draw conclusions from a small number of cases but it does sound as if loss of nesting sites could be a factor.
I'm interested to hear about the nest box scheme in Switzerland. I'm aware of people putting up boxes for tawny and barn owls in this area but I don't remember hearing of any for little owls. There are lots of trees in Surrey, of course, but little owls don't seem to like woodland as such. It's possible that there are fewer suitable trees.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 08:56   #11
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Wonder if increasing competition for the few remaining holes from Ring-necked Parakeets might be a factor too?
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 09:48   #12
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Where we lived in Somerset (not far from Axbridge), we noticed a big decline from the late 80's onward.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 19:19   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nutcracker View Post
Wonder if increasing competition for the few remaining holes from Ring-necked Parakeets might be a factor too?
RNPs are still scarce near me.

One theory I've heard is that the crash in the rabbit population has forced buzzards to hunt different prey.

Another is that the loss of beetles has deprived LOs of food.

Of course, there could be several factors at work simulataneously.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 22:31   #14
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Another is that the loss of beetles has deprived LOs of food.
Seems very plausible with the collapse in insect populations, but doesn't account for the increase after nestbox provision.

Don't think predation by Buzzards will be significant.
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 03:54   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nutcracker View Post
Wonder if increasing competition for the few remaining holes from Ring-necked Parakeets might be a factor too?
There must be some competition but in Richmond Park where Little Owls are doing well there are probably a couple of hundred parakeets, large numbers of Jackdaws + a fair number of Stock Doves too not to mention Egyptian Geese + Mandarins also all looking for suitable cavities.

Also in central London in Kensington Gardens, Little Owls continue to hold there own despite parakeets, increasing number of Jackdaws + Stock Doves.
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 06:47   #16
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I used to see Little Owls in several areas of my local patches around Southampton, but haven't seen one for several years now. It seems strange that Great White Egrets are now far more common on the patch than Little Owls...not that I'm suggesting any correlation!
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 07:07   #17
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I used to know of a site with eight pairs of Little Owl, this declined to one in the short space of about three years, there were no changes to the habitat or nest site availability, but it did coincide with a run of hot dry periods in mid to late summer. I wondered at the time, and still do, whether this resulted in a decline in available prey like earthworms (which would have retreated deeper into the soil), plus, as others above have mentioned, a decline in invertebrates (and the knock-on of a decline in passerine prey). As to the current situation, the one pair on the site that were usually in evidence I haven't seen since a single fledgling in July last year and I'm now beginning to wonder if they have gone from the site.
I also used to see a couple of pairs in other locations and certainly at one site they disappeared about ten years ago, while at the other site I haven't seen any for two years, despite suitable habitat and nest box availability.
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 09:24   #18
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Originally Posted by WalterRayle View Post
I used to know of a site with eight pairs of Little Owl, this declined to one in the short space of about three years, there were no changes to the habitat or nest site availability, but it did coincide with a run of hot dry periods in mid to late summer. I wondered at the time, and still do, whether this resulted in a decline in available prey like earthworms (which would have retreated deeper into the soil), plus, as others above have mentioned, a decline in invertebrates (and the knock-on of a decline in passerine prey). As to the current situation, the one pair on the site that were usually in evidence I haven't seen since a single fledgling in July last year and I'm now beginning to wonder if they have gone from the site.
I also used to see a couple of pairs in other locations and certainly at one site they disappeared about ten years ago, while at the other site I haven't seen any for two years, despite suitable habitat and nest box availability.
What part of the country was this?
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 14:59   #19
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Hampshire and Wiltshire
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Old Saturday 23rd February 2019, 16:39   #20
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Hampshire and Wiltshire
thanks!
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Old Sunday 24th February 2019, 16:57   #21
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We have also had a big decline in Little Owls in North East Hampshire (used to be a very easy year tick, now difficult to find except at one or two sites).

The trouble with the hotter, dryer argument is the three I saw yesterday morning near Oued Massa with no effort at all.....

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Old Monday 25th February 2019, 04:11   #22
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We have also had a big decline in Little Owls in North East Hampshire (used to be a very easy year tick, now difficult to find except at one or two sites).

The trouble with the hotter, dryer argument is the three I saw yesterday morning near Oued Massa with no effort at all.....

John
They do originate from warmer, drier climes but in those countries there's an abundance of large insects to choose from which are either lacking or much less abundant here.
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Old Monday 25th February 2019, 09:32   #23
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I spend most of my time doing entomology, I have been noticing in the past ten years or so how real the decline in insect and numbers has been. As an example I was doing some sweep-net survey on a chalk grassland site in southern England in May 2018, in two hours I didn't record a single hoverfly species where I'd had fifteen species in the same area, same corresponding week and same conditions, despite the sun being out, the temp being 22oC and there being next to no wind. It didn't improve as the summer progressed. While these are not Little Owl food it does speak of how dire the situation is becoming.
There's also been mass decline in dung beetles which Little Owls do feed on (despite there always being livestock on my previously mentioned site which had eight pairs, I virtually never see any dung beetles there in my weekly and sometimes twice weekly visits), mostly I suspect because of increased use of worming boluses etc. of livestock, particularly Avermectins, there was one school of thought some time ago in entomology circles that this could have been part of the reason Red-backed Shrikes became extinct in the UK.
I'm sure someone better informed than me could probably point to a large scale decline of earthworms too, how often do we see gulls following the plough these days? virtually never, as a result of firstly artificial fertilisers being used in preference to farmyard manure, and second because if manure is used it's usually devoid of insect use due to worming of livestock. There simply aren't the soil invertebrates to attract feeding birds anymore.
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Old Monday 25th February 2019, 15:18   #24
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Good points from both, thank you.

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Old Monday 25th February 2019, 15:50   #25
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Note BWP considers Little Owl population reached its UK peak in 1930s following rapid expansion post Introduction in late 19th century.
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