Today, we are back at Kirkleatham Owl Centre, giving you a behind the scenes tour. Read about the birds, watch their progress in training, and get up close and personal with other residents, including the meerkat and porcupine families. This week, we start looking ahead with the centre’s Craig Wesson

It may seem a little early to be looking ahead to next year (though maybe not with the year we have all had), but that is what we have been doing this week at the centre – as well as looking back a few months

At the start of this year we launched the Kirkleatham nestbox project and our aim was to make, put up and monitor 50 bird boxes around the Kirkleatham grounds.

Thanks to our brilliant volunteers, the 50 boxes were quickly made and put up, with the last ones being put in place just before lockdown at the end of March.

The Northern Echo:

Some of the bird boxes ready too go up

Boxes for blue tits, great tits, tree sparrows, house sparrows, tawny and barn owl were all made, but how many became home to a pair of nesting birds?

Our plan had been for some of our younger volunteers and students to monitor the boxes – each box would be observed from a distance for a short period each day to see what birds, if any, had taken up residence,

The Northern Echo:

Blackbirds also made use of the nesting boxes – albeit on top

Because of lockdown this didn’t happen because all of our volunteers were asked to stay at home, so instead I did my best to keep track of all 50 boxes, usually while walking my dogs.

Despite the boxes going up a bit late, we did have success and three pairs of blue tit, two pairs of great tit, a pair of nuthatch, two blackbird nests (made on top of nestboxes, so we did count them as using the box) Oh and a fair few wasp colonies that took over blue tit boxes.

The Northern Echo:

Blue tit, Parus caeruleus, perched on branch. The owl centre had some luck with their bird boxes being occupied by blue tits

We were especially pleased with the nuthatch who reared seven chicks and these chicks were fitted with identification rings by a friend of ours from the British Trust for Ornithology.

A worrying find, however, was made with the blackbird nests – both had been made not only with grass and mud, as you would expect, but also with various items of litter – sweet wrappers and bits of netting. We removed the netting before a bird got a leg caught, but it shows that even in a beautiful location like Kirkleatham the problem of litter is ever present.

The Northern Echo:

The blackbird nest containing litter

All in all a successful breeding season in our nestboxes. Next year, we are expanding the project an additional 50 boxes, which will be placed around the Kirkleatham estate during the next few weeks, and that’s not all, we plan to expand the project yet further to include much more than nestboxes, but more on that another time.