BARN Owls have suffered their worst breeding season for 30 years due according to a startling new report.
The iconic bird of prey has become a victim of the extreme recent British weather which has wreaked havoc on their habitat.
The Barn Owl Trust report reveals how just a few monitored nest sites across the country have been used so far this year.
Numbers were already low due to the bitterly cold winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 and extremely wet English summers of 2010 and 2011.
Monitoring Site visits revealed the extent of the devastation. Sites where owls nest have dropped from 51 percent to 12 percent. A total of 47 percent of sites were unoccupied. In the late 1990s numbers dwindled to 4,000 pairs across the UK.
At the occupied sites where pairs have managed to survive and breed, the average number of young in the nest was just two rather than the four or five that are needed for population recovery.
The British Trust for Ornithology recorded a 280 percent increase in reports of dead birds many of which had starved. A century ago it was a common farmland bird. Now it is far more scare than in the 1980s when it was estimated to have declined by 70 percent since 1932.
Jenny McCutchan, who monitors for the Trust, said: “It has been a really poor spring. The number of Voles has been very low and that is their main food source. They can’t really hunt in bad weather and that has had a major impact on their breeding. They are having a bad time but that’s nature way. Hopefully they will come round again and be successful.”
Trust spokesman David Ramsden said: “Barn Owl mortality usually peaks in February and then things improve. But in March this year mortality just kept increasing and by the end of the month huge numbers were dead.
“In 2012 our hopes were high. Fantastic weather in March meant owls started breeding earlier and by late May we were finding nests with as many as seven well-grown owlets. But in June it all went horribly wrong. The rain started and didn’t stop.
“This prevented adults hunting and many young birds starved. In some cases, we found entire broods of owlets dead in the nest.”