Advice on Wintering Short-eared Owls in Cornwall

As some of our members will know, it has been an excellent season for Short-eared Owl in Cornwall and I am grateful for the many records we have recieved from our membership via the Bird News Team. We can expect to see more birds throughout March as passage migants head north to breed and hopefully some may even settle in Cornwall to nest.

Those of you that have submitted records will be aware that CBWPS don’t publicise wintering sites online, but we very much apreciate the data which gets saved into our database for use in our annual bird report; Birds In Cornwall and for conservation projects and national studies.

Sadly we are getting several reports of bad behaviour at the well known roost sites, with people potentially disturbing the owls.  One of our members commented: ‘ There were 2 birders with long lens cameras trudging about all over the area where the owls hunt not making any attempt to stay behind the walls as I have seen other photographers do.  How sad that people who are supposed to at least be interested in birds are so obsessed with getting a photo that they disrupt any attempts the owls might have made to hunt here.’ The main photograph shows similar behaviour, where people are stood in the area that Short-eared Owls should be feeding or day roosting.

It is worth remembering that our actions in the field can have a very negative impact to sensitive species like Short-eared Owl. Which are vulnerable to disturbance, potentially causing starvation and fatigue. I have had three records of dead Short-eared Owls this year alone, which can be attributed to many causes. But our own behaviour can contribute to this rather sad outcome.

We are more than aware that the vast majority of photographers and birders who enjoy watching Short-eared Owls are very well behaved, have great fieldcraft skills and respect the birds they treasure so much. We also know that many well intended people wouldn’t even realise they are potentially casusing harm to their avian subjects.

It is great to see so many new people interested in birdwatching and bird photography and it is genuinely brilliant to see your excellent shots and passion for birds. To get even more out of our hobby please do read the Birdwatchers Code of Conduct. It offers excellent advice on how to enjoy watching birds whilst encouraging good behaviour and inspiring non birders to respect nature too.

My own advice with the owls or with any photography of wary species is to use some cover to blend in with the surrounding landscape. Keep still and quiet (birds will often then come to you, without being disturbed) and then when you get your good photo, be content and leave them to it. Photographs with some background habitat (and not completely zoomed in) often look much more pleasing to the eye and tend to be appreciated more by our peers. The breeding season is very close now, with some bird species already on territory. Please then remember that disturbing them at a nest site can be an offence, so it is worth looking here to see which birds are Schedule 1 protected List of Protected Birds | BTO – British Trust for Ornithology

Finally; please do send your records into [email protected], [email protected] or to BirdTrack and EBird. Your data does make a massive difference collectively to conservation in Cornwall.