I hope you all had a nice Easter and got lots of nice chocolate eggs to eat, its not just the chocolate eggs I was waiting for though because as the clock’s went forward so do the hormones of our avian friends. Those of you that read my piece on the Golden eagles will be aware that the courtship of certain species starts well before Winter ends and Raptor Aid has now turned its attentions to early breeding species more closer to home, two species that we focus on first are Raven’s (Corvus corax) and Tawny owl (Strix aluco).
The Raven of course is not a bird of prey but never the less shows predatory traits and is a fascinating species to study and monitor. Raven numbers have increased greatly in many parts of the England in recent years after many years of heavy persecution. These birds are both monogamous and long lived and will often remain faithful to a nest site or sites in a territory. They are the largest member of the British corvid family with large black wings a diamond shaped tailed and substantial heavy bill, their call is a strong Pruk-Pruk-Pruk and their flight for such a large bird is incredible to watch, with pairs silhouette flying and rolling on their wings above the territory often beginning late last year. Now though you can expect Ravens to be sat tightly on eggs with earlier birds even raising young, the nest of Ravens depends on the region and terrain of the pair, Raptor Aid monitor a pair that often nest on a rocky crag within a woodland but this year they have moved to a large Scots pine 500yds away. Their nests are large stick structures which they will build up each year and the inside of the nest is often lined with sheep’s wool and animal fur. Surprisingly for such a large bird their incubation is relatively short at 20-21 days and depending on food availability and weather they can raise and fledge up to 5/6 chicks.
Ravens have been part of folklore for centuries and are still used in many mainstream TV programmes including the hugely popular Game of Thrones as messengers. They are highly intelligent birds and in the UK probably most commonly recognised as the birds found in the Tower of London. The coming fortnight will be a busy time for Raptor Aid checking and monitoring several Raven nest sites.
Tawny owls are also an early breeder with courtship and territorial disputes beginning as early as October in some areas. The Tawny is a species most will be familiar with due to its call which most associate wrongly with all owls – Twit-twoo. It is in fact more of a Kee-vick and then Hoo-hoo, there is often some dispute as to whether this is two owls communicating as a pair, often this is the case but both sexes are more than capable of producing both call’s. It is also worth pointing out that Tawny owls will call during the day and this is something that we are monitoring in a couple of sites as it’s not completely understood why they do this. Tawny owls are our most numerous species of owl in the UK although completely absent from Ireland and despite many people hearing territorial Tawny owls throughout Winter it has been found that they are a species on a downward curve according to vocal records and breeding data. A classic example that just because you hear or see a species frequently in your area doesn’t mean all is well, that is why Raptor Aid carries out this sort of science.
Tawny’s have been recorded incubating eggs as early as December but most pairs will now be incubating eggs with young usually hatching around the end of April early May in most regions. They nest in cavities in old trees but will also use the tops of old squirrel drey’s, old bird nests and even in some areas nest on the ground, they are a species that will readily take to a nest box thanks to their love of cavities though and Raptor Aid is part of several Tawny owl nest box schemes to monitor breeding ecology and population densities in certain areas. Tawny owl chicks are also a species that often gets found on the floor often mistaken for being injured, this is usually not the case as the chicks although very downy are what we call brancher’s and will climb out of their cavity or box before they can fly and scramble about in the branches and bushes surrounding the nest site for a couple of weeks still provisioned by the parents. If you should fine a Tawny owl chick please either leave it alone or if your feel it is in a vulnerable area place it on a branch in a well covered bush nearby, and be careful as watching parents can be very protective of young.
We will know more about the fortune of our Tawny owls as we go around and check boxes for occupation and egg’s, it is also a great time to see if we have the same adult birds on territory. This is only just the beginning we have also been checking Goshawk territories as these will now be starting to lay and incubate eggs and we are getting involved in a long running Peregrine study in the next few weeks with many pairs of Peregrines now also incubating eggs. Photos and potential videos to follow. The end of the month will also see us head back up to Scotland to see if we have Golden Eagle incubating eggs this year so April is already action packed!
We have some exciting oversee’s projects in the pipeline but they are sitting on the back burner until time allows us to focus our attentions abroad. One thing is for sure the conservation work continues moving forward!
Thanks for reading.