Even Sparrows... Bird watchers


Posted: 12.12.22 in Articles category

On an Even Sparrows retreat I often ask people at the start what their favourite bird is. Perhaps that’s not a fair question as I don’t have one single, favourite bird. I have been lucky enough to see nearly one thousand bird species around the world and I have enjoyed seeing virtually all of them. Yet there are birds that I think are very special and would make any list of personal favourites. These vary over the years, but I recently compiled a top ten which I listed in alphabetical order, beginning with the Barn Owl.

For many years I used to look at one every day that hung on my study wall. In 1994 I found a fresh 'roadkill’ which my late friend Pete Bull expertly stuffed in flight mode. He outstretched its wings, enabling me to examine the beauty of its plumage: pale orange and white wing feathers marked with soft brown spots, all white feathering on the body and of course that heart-shaped white face. Even in death the Barn Owl is a beautiful bird but seeing one alive and in flight is still a magical experience which I never tire of seeing. Occasionally, one hunts in daylight over the field behind our garden, but most of my sightings are at night. Tragically, over the years I have accidentally killed on two occasions single owls that have flown in front of the car, and that cause of death claims the lives of many young birds. Roads seem ideal hunting routes to youngsters unaware of the dangers they face from motor traffic. Yet it is sustained harsh weather that seems to be the biggest killer. Snow and heavy rain thwart Barn Owls from hunting, and they can face starvation within a matter of days. The severe winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 here in Northumberland killed off many birds and it seems the inland population was more than halved. Thankfully, the recent return to milder winters augurs well for the Barn Owl, and I am having fairly regular sightings locally. At the time of writing, I saw an owl in flight only two nights ago and less than a mile from home. Wonderful to see again

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