People in Galway are being asked to help with a survey on Barn Owls in the county which is being carried out this summer.
BirdWatch Ireland is asking the public and landowners to report information on Barn Owls in an online survey aiming to examine how the birds are currently faring here.
The findings of the survey will be used to make sure nest sites are protected and help conservation efforts which will include providing nest boxes.
Barn Owls were once a common sight in Galway, but over recent decades, their populations have suffered extensive declines and they are now a Red-listed Bird of Conservation Concern in Ireland.
As a top predator and sentinel species for the health of our countryside, BirdWatch Ireland says that the declines in Barn Owl populations are extremely worrying.
The changing agricultural landscape has resulted in the loss of suitable habitats, including a reduction of prey-rich foraging habitat and nesting sites.
Alongside these land use changes and the loss of habitat, the increased use and increased toxicity of anti-coagulant rodenticides, as well as the expansion of major road networks, are likely to be the main factors which have influenced the declines in the Barn Owl populations.
But despite Barn Owl populations declining in recent decades, there seems to be early indications that they may be recovering in Galway.
In recent years, Barn Owl pairs have re-established in old ruins which have not held Barn Owls for many years.
One of the reasons for this recovery may be due to the range expansion of non-native small mammal species, the Greater White-toothed Shrew and the Bank Vole, both of which are recent arrivals to Galway and are taken as prey by Barn Owls and other predators.
John Lusby of BirdWatch Ireland said that it is a “very special experience to glimpse the ghostly form of the Barn Owl floating silently over their hunting grounds in the dead of night, or to hear their eerie screeches and strange snoring calls.”
“Everybody who has been lucky enough to see this remembers such an encounter, and we are asking people to report this information to us, which will greatly help our survey efforts to locate nest sites and to determine the health of the population,” said Mr Lusby.
He added that they are also looking for information on Barn Owl nest boxes in the county, and many different groups and individuals have gone to great effort to help Barn Owls in Galway by installing purpose-built nest boxes.
“We hope to get a better idea of how many nest boxes are in place and the proportion that are being used by Barn Owl, and we would ask that anyone that has put up a nest box to let us know,” he said.
You can help the survey and conservation efforts by reporting any information that you have on Barn Owls in the county by visiting here or visit the BirdWatch Ireland website.
BirdWatch Ireland has also stressed that Barn Owls are a protected species and can be very sensitive to disturbance, and that potential nest sites should never be approached or interfered with in any way.
The Barn Owl Survey in Galway is supported by the Heritage Office, Galway Co Council through the National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund, and the NPWS.