Nest boxes making a real difference for barn owls

Barn owls across the wider Tees Valley are making a comeback with the help of landowners, owl workers and local community support.  Over five years of conservation effort to create critically needed breeding habitat for barn owls by the placement of specially designed nest boxes is clearly paying dividends.  The project which is led by volunteers at the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust has created a network of over 300 barn owl boxes across the landscape.  As the number of nest boxes has grown, so have the number of nesting barn owls.  In 2019 the nest box network supported 67 breeding pairs of barn owls.  2023 had 114 pairs of barn owls using the nest boxes for breeding.

The nest boxes allow the licensed volunteers to collect annual data on breeding success.  Breeding success appears to be driven by weather pattern. Cold wet spells affect the ability for barn owls to hunt, gain breeding weight or raise their chicks.  2023 has been a good year for the barn owls.  The average brood size was 3.3 owlets and over 320 owlets were ringed.

The rings on the birds provide information on barn owl dispersal.  Several rings were reported in 2023 including one bird that had migrated to the region from Norfolk and one that had migrated from Leicestershire.  Generally the owlets ringed in the Tees Valley tend to remain within 10km of their nest box.  The juvenile survival rate is the most important factor in determining the population size of barn owls. Ring data provides vital information on age of death.  You can help by reporting any ringed dead owls by using the information on the ring or by contacting the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust.

The nest boxes are also proving popular with other cavity nesters.  This year a further sixty of the boxes were used by kestrels, tawny owls, stock doves or jackdaws for nesting.  In practical terms two out of every three boxes in the network supported wildlife breeding.  Other boxes have provided roosting habitat.  

For the past two years the community members across the Tees Valley have been supporting the barn owl project by sponsoring a box either for them of as a gift.  The cost is only £10.00.  Sponsors are allocated a box which has a history of occupancy and told the approximate location of the box.  When the licensed owl volunteers start checking the boxes in late Spring, the sponsors receive email updates and where possible photographs as to what is found in their box, and other boxes checked the same day, giving them a unique insight into the private life of the barn owl.

“I love sponsoring a box to see the owls and the development of the owlets.  It’s really satisfying to see my contribution making a practical difference to helping nature” said one sponsor.  “I was thrilled and delighted when one of my boxes was used by kestrels”. “I’ve learnt a lot about barn owls by sponsoring a box and even when my box wasn’t used I received lots of photographs and information about what was happening in other boxes” said another. 

If you would like to support barn owls by sponsoring a box for you or a friend for 2024 please go to the website: and use the donate button at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you can contact us at: [email protected] for other ways to pay.

For more information on the Tees Valley Wildlife Trusts owl project contact Sue Antrobus on 01287 636382 or email [email protected]

Sponsor a nest box and give barn owls a chance!