Northern Ireland

Nature charity urges public to listen for 'snoring' owls

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Media captionIt is believed there are only between 30 and 50 breeding pairs of the red-listed species in Northern Ireland.

A nature charity has asked people in the countryside to listen out for the sound of snoring to help track one of our most elusive night-time predators.

Ulster Wildlife says young barn owl chicks make the sound when they are calling for food from their parents.

It is believed there are only between 30 and 50 breeding pairs of the red-listed species in Northern Ireland.

And experts know of just three active nest sites.

One of those nests is on Michael Calvert's farm near Greyabbey in County Down.

The beef farmer manages his land to attract barn owls by leaving uncultivated field margins where mice can thrive.

He has also put up barn owl boxes and, for the second year in a row, adults there have successfully raised chicks.

Image caption Mr Calvert manages his land to make it more attractive to barn owls

The chicks have now been ringed under a special licence from the Department of Agriculture and Environment.

'Snoring noise'

The permission is needed because it is an offence to disturb barn owls at the nest.

Ulster Wildlife's barn owl officer Catherine Fegan said the "rasping, snoring noise" made by hungry chicks can travel up to 100 metres.

Image caption Barn owls do not build nests but find homes in hollow tree trunks, quarry fences and occasionally nest boxes

"We're hoping the public will keep their ears open for barn owls this summer and report any soundings to us," she said.

The charity is hoping the noise will help it track nest sites.

Sightings of the bird are more commonly reported, but they can travel up to eight miles from their nests in the hunt for food.

Barn owls do not build nests, instead using old buildings, hollow tree trunks, quarry faces and occasionally the nest boxes provided.

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