Long-eared owls breed for first time in 40 years

The first long-eared owls to breed in Shetland for nearly 40 years have successfully reared three chicks at a site in West Burrafirth this summer.

The birds fledged towards the end of last month, and were photographed by local resident Mona Walterson.

The last time long-eared owls bred in the islands was in 1975, close to the Loch of Asta. And though it is “not inconceivable” that they have made further attempts since then, according to Paul Harvey of the Shetland Biological Records Centre “there’s not strong evidence to suggest that”.

The reason for their success this year, Mr Harvey thinks, is “the proximity of good nesting habitat in a relatively quiet place, and available food. They’ve fledged three chicks and that’s pretty good going”, he said.

One of the young long-eared owls. Photo: Mona Walterson
One of the young long-eared owls. Photo: Mona Walterson

“There does seem to be a good food supply there… Certainly [the owls] were eating starlings, frogs, and they certainly took a blackbird. The frogs is quite interesting because apparently they’re really abundant there.”

Mr Harvey believes there is every chance the owls will return again, having done so well this year.

“If you think about it, they’ve been very successful” he said; “they’ve raised a brood of three. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t come back. It’s obviously a good site. So I suspect they will be back next year.”


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