Serco Working in Partnership with Conservation at RAF Halton

On a beautiful sunny day in July we met up with Serco’s Dave Short from the Motor Transport section at RAF Halton. Dave, who is a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Ringer Trainer, is a devoted member of the conservationist team and works with other volunteers throughout the station.

We had an opportunity to experience him in action (alongside his colleague Russ Barber who is one of his trainees) removing an old owl nesting box and replacing it with a new one. In his spare time, Dave makes the nesting boxes of all types out of wood, but unfortunately these eventually deteriorate and need to be renewed.

Joining them both on the Airfield, where the Barn Owls live and hunt, Dave and Russ carefully remove the old box, making the original post secure and replacing with a new nesting box. Sadly, Dave found two dead Barn Owl chicks inside that would have been around 4 weeks old when they died, from what he could see from their wing and feather development. The old box does not go to waste, they leave this in the undergrowth, which is a perfect habitat for the bugs and invertebrates.

Dave also explains there are 7 more raptors that can be seen from time to time on or around the airfield. They are Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Sparrow Hawk and Tawny Owl. He informed us that Little Owls can also be found nesting under the old porta cabin, in an old rabbit burrow and also in a nest box sited in the  large single Ash tree.

Amazed by Dave’s knowledge of owls, I was fascinated to learn more. The Barn Owl is the quietest owl and the towit-towoo you sometimes hear comes from a pair of Tawny Owls, the male calling the Towit and the female replying Towoo. This is heard prominently from October to February, when the Tawny Owls are pairing up for breeding and where the males show their territory.

When asked ‘is it true the owls’ head turns all the way round’? The answer is no. Owls can turn their heads approximately 180 degrees each way, this giving the illusion of them rotating their heads all the way round.

It is very important not to disturb any birds, especially when nesting, as it is illegal. A special licence is required to do what Dave and his trainees do when ringing.

The nesting season is between March and September, however Barn Owls have been known to breed all year round providing the weather and food conditions are good for the time of year. It is not only boxes where birds nest. They can be found in hedgerows, buildings as well as trees.

If you wish to volunteer your services you can contact
Ann Collier on 01296 656495 or email Volunteers who have left Halton are still actively involved in the work.

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