At this time of year I make an attempt to visit as many of my owl boxes as possible, not to look inside them but just to survey the general area to see if there is any evidence of them being used prior to the breeding season commencing. If Little Owls have been using a particular box there are usually tell tail scratches on the face just below the hole caused by the owls claws. If Barn Owls have been using a box or visiting a building that contains one then the signs I look out for are big black pellets and poo on the floor!
Occasionally it isn't necessary to look for these clues because I actually see the birds themselves, what better evidence could be wanted than that? Well I was recently checking out a Little Owl box in the south of the county. This box was erected in 2010 and since then it has been checked on at least an annual basis, and so far nothing! In this instance I was giving the box the once over through my binoculars and noticed some light scratch marks below the hole, mmmmmm looks promising. I wasn't getting too excited at this stage because the same kind of scratch marks can be made by other birds (Great Tits) or Squirrels, the usual culprits.
I moved in for a closer look and yes the marks on the box did look like they could have been made by a Little Owl. When Squirrels use a box the scratched are usually all around the hole and often there are gnaw marks too. I didn't suspect Great Tit because the pitch (distance between the scratches) was too wide, however they were very light so whatever had caused them hadn't been doing so for too long.
I positioned up and waited.....................
Eventually I was rewarded for my patience and got to see what I'd been waiting for, a Little Owl appeared at the entrance hole!!!
After a while the first bird popped out of the box and landed on the adjacent perch, then a second owl appeared at the hole entrance, yeeeeeeees a pair!
The owls seemed relaxed and were comfortable in the presence of my parked up Landrover, obviously they couldn't see me as I was hidden behind my camo scrim. Occasionally they would glance in my direction when I think they heard the camera shutter clicking.
I am not sure where these owls have come from? They are either a relocated pair from a nearby site or maybe and most likely they are both juveniles from last year that have recently bonded and set up home in my box, I guess we'll never know but I am sure pleased they are here!