Today is the anniversary of the first little owl nest nest to be found in the UK.
Little owls are not native UK species - for some reason they stopped at the English Channel and didn't colonise. However, they are very cute-looking birds and several Victorian naturalists thought that the UK would be better off with little owls than without them.
A Mr Meade-Waldo in Kent tried hard to get them established but it was Lord Lilford of Lilford Hall in the County of Northamptonshire who managed to do it.
The 4th Baron Lilford was a great ornithologist and in his very own 'The Birds of Northamptonshire' he writes as follows:
'I have for a considerable number of years annually purchased a number of these Owls in the London market, and as the majority are too young to fly when first received, I have had them placed together in large box-cages in quiet places about our grounds in Lilford, and left the doors of the cage wide open, taking care that an ample supply of food is provided once during the day for the Owls. I regret that I have not kept notes as to when I first adopted this practice, but for several years, beyond the fact that we occasionally saw and frequently heard of one or more Little Owls in the neighbourhood, nothing of importance came of the experiment, so far as I am aware, till 1889, when one of our gamekeepers, on April 23, found a Little Owl sitting in a hollow bough of an old ash tree in the deer-park at Lilford; she would not move, but he lifted her, and found that she was sitting upon a single egg, to which she added three, and brought off four young birds in the second week of June. One, if not two, other broods were reared in our near neighbourhood in 1889.'
And the little owl is the logo of the Northants Bird Club to this day.
We probably wouldn't be terribly keen on an introduction like this these days - but I don't know of any harm that little owls have done to our completely native fauna. If they have been benign - as they appear to have been - then it's probably because they are very much a part of the fauna of this part of the world. They may be a non-native - but they are native on just the other side of the Channel and are mixing with largely the same species here as there. A bit like eagle owls really.
What seems strange to me is the small numbers in our area at least and we had the nesting mostly in a unused chimney we think at the farm but we seemed to see a lot of them after leaving the nest we think get killed by probably crows,they always amused us by moving along the cross pieces on electric poles so that in theory the pole was between them and us so thinking we could not see them.They do not seem to have increased in numbers very much if at all.
Barry - good points, thank you.
I don't think the adults and chicks of Little Terns nesting at Rye Harbour would agree with you. Nor the Skylarks reported by local farmers to be cached in the Little Owl roost sites. All introduced species will have some impact and in this case losing breeding adults from a small population of seabirds was not benign.
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