Welney owls are a big draw

Barn owl in flight at Welney. Simon Stirrup ANL-150130-144358001

Barn owl in flight at Welney. Simon Stirrup ANL-150130-144358001

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This winter more visitors than ever are getting brilliant views of the magnificent barn owls at WWT Welney Wetland Centre

The iconic shape of these pale owls gliding over the ditches and grassy banks of the wetland reserve is something that people often hope to experience in the Fens.

Barn owl at Welney. John Winnan. ANL-150130-144343001

Barn owl at Welney. John Winnan. ANL-150130-144343001

The cold weather and longer nights at this time of year result in more daytime sightings of barn owls.

They can be out as late as 10am, when they are finishing their night’s hunting and returning to their roosts.

Some of the owls like to get a head start on the competition and are leaving their roosts as early as 2pm.

A successful breeding season last summer means that there are more opportunities to see these beautiful birds of prey.

Barn owl and kestrel at Welney WWT. Picture: Ian Hull ANL-150130-144252001

Barn owl and kestrel at Welney WWT. Picture: Ian Hull ANL-150130-144252001

Four pairs of barn owls bred in the area local to WWT Welney and at least two of these pairs managed to raise three broods of young.

Louise Clewley, WWT Welney warden said: “Catching sight of a barn owl is a moment that most people never forget.

“We’ve had a fantastic response from visitors on our facebook page who have managed to capture photos and video of the owls during their visits.

“These graceful birds of prey, quietly concentrating on catching their next meal, often don’t notice us watching them.

Barn owl at welney by Diane Devanche ANL-150130-144330001

Barn owl at welney by Diane Devanche ANL-150130-144330001

“The open landscape and vantage points such as the bridge mean that these birds are easy to spot.

“Visitors to the area are regularly seeing between six to eight individual owls.”

The barn owls predominantly feed on small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews.

A good year for the voles has had the knock-on effect of plentiful food for the local owls.

However, they don’t always manage to enjoy the rewards of their hard work.

These skilled hunters are often targeted by other birds of prey who try to steal their prize.

Visitors have managed to document kestrels and sparrowhawks both trying to steal food from the owls.