24 barn owl chicks fledged from 8 known breeding pairs – a 500% increase in chicks from 2021 – according to Ulster Wildlife.

Two new nest sites were also discovered in Co. Down helping to boost the bird’s fragile population, which is estimated to be less than 30 breeding pairs.

2021 was a bad year for the species due to a wet spring and hot summer resulting in low breeding numbers.

Katy Bell, Senior Conservation Officer at Ulster Wildlife, said: “After a troubled 2021, we are delighted to see the fortunes of barns owl changing and their numbers doing well. Every time we think the population is increasing we lose some of our breeding pairs, so this year's news is very positive.

“Barn owls need a number of things to survive: plenty of wildlife-friendly habitat on farms with enough small mammals to eat, places to nest and roost, as well as climatic stability.

“All of these factors play a part in their success and a big part of our work to help this species recover is advising landowners and farmers on habitat improvements and putting up artificial nest boxes.

“It is great to see this paying dividend in 2022, providing a welcome boost for our small and struggling barn owl population.”

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“We want to find more nest sites, support more landowners and nest-minders, create a network of habitats and nest boxes, and ultimately help protect and expand our population of barn owls. Sightings of these elusive birds are really important to help target our efforts, so we would encourage anyone to get in touch.”

Barn owls require areas of rough grassland, wild field margins, and wild bird cover in order to hunt for small mammals, like mice and rats, that take refuge there. Last year, the charity carried out 34 landowner visits to advise on ideal barn owl habitat and erected 20 man-made nest boxes in suitable locations to replace the loss of natural nesting sites in barns, old buildings, and tree cavities.

During the summer, dedicated volunteers monitored 76 nest boxes across the countryside for signs of barn owl activity, such as regurgitated pellets and whitewash droppings, as well as surveying 11 potential new breeding sites.

“2023 brings exciting opportunities to build on the success of our barn owl conservation work,” Bell added.