When I took on the project here at ProHides there was one product that stood out above all others as the flagship product for the brand. Stunning images of the farm resident little owls had often featured on the social feeds and I was keen to make sure that I could still offer such a fantastic opportunity.
This wasn't going to be easy though - the area in which the little owls were known to reside and breed had been part of an intensive development project for construction of a new dairy through 2018 and into 2019 and there wasn't even a certainty that the owls would be present still, let alone breeding.
A few months before breeding season began I started in discussions with the farm around access to the area - constant construction in the area and the opening of the dairy meant there was a lot of traffic, vehicular, pedestrian and farm creatures, in the area and uncertainty around timings. After months of discussions and proposals we eventually came to an agreement and the farm team kindly allowed me to begin accessing the area for observations. Stage one was complete.
Stage two was to establish the owls were still in the area and the great news was that this didn't take long at all. It soon became apparent that the owls were using the same old farmhouse they had used the years before and appeared to be setting up nest - fantastic news! As the weeks went by I began setting up feeding posts, offering daily supplementary food for the owls, and whistle training them to know that food had been put out. A popup hide was setup and trial sessions ran for a few weeks. Eventually I was getting daily sightings of an adult owl and the food was being consumed every day without fail.
Stage three was to open to bookings and I did so just in time as just two weeks after opening to bookings the first fledgling appeared. Notably only one adult had ever been seen at a time at this point for a few weeks and only one fledgling appeared in the window despite hearing what sounded like more mouths to feed from deeper in the house. A few lucky customers were able to get images at this time. The theory was that the little owls would continue to raise their young in the area until early autumn time when they would move on. This was not to be...
A few days later though the news wasn't great, at first one customer reported no sightings - this was odd, I had been getting sightings pretty much 90% of the time - the following day, the same, so I then took the decision to join a customer for an evening - same again... this was worrying and I made the decision to put the hide on hold to investigate further.
This all happened about two weeks ago and I have spent multiple nights and mornings in the area since looking for the owls and it saddens me to say that neither the adult or fledgling have had confirmed sightings or been heard since.
There are of course countless things that could have gone wrong for the little owl family;
- One theory is that they have been predated by a neighbouring barn owl family - the barn owls had been spotted also roosting inside the farmhouse, utilising the same windows as the little owls and it's certainly not unheard of for these two species to clash.
- Another notable development is that a juvenile cuckoo appeared in the area utilising many of the same posts that the little owl had been using. Cuckoos can be stubborn, boisterous birds and there's a chance that the arrival caused too much competition for our little owl family and they moved elsewhere on the farm.
For now I will continue to look for the family, there are multiple adjoining hedgerows that meet at the farmhouse and there's a chance that the owls may have eluded me in these over the past fortnight. The hide is still in place in the hope that the owls may return.
I appreciate a number of people reading this likely had bookings for the hide and I can only apologise and thank you for your understanding with what has gone here. I will keep you all updated as and when any more information is found.