“What a day! The duties of Sherwood Conservation Rangers Kev Gustard and Mike Hill certainly have moments which make you think ‘wow, these guys have the best job in the world’ and when the task involves tagging young tawny owls, you’re hard pressed to think any different.
Kev is one of the most passionate rangers you will ever meet and his knowledge and enthusiasm is truly infectious.
When I found out Kev was heading out to tag tawny owl chicks I asked if I could ‘tag’ along too and he was happy to include me in his day.
Tagging (also known as ringing) a bird involves placing a light alloy ring around one leg. Kev explained that the rings have a unique number on them which is registered with the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO), this can then be tracked and information collected.
In conjunction with the Birkland Ringing Group, Kev has been ringing birds at Sherwood Forest and surrounding areas for over 22 years. Although tawny owls don’t move more than a couple of miles from their original site, Kev said he’d previously tagged a bird that had recorded the longest movement of a tawny owl – from Sherwood Forest to Cleveland, about 100 miles away!
A trio of tawny owls
When we reached the owl box, Kev was already aware that the youngsters inside were around 3 weeks old as he keeps a regular eye on all 15 boxes on the village, four of which are occupied by nesting owls.
Kev popped on his goggles and climbed the ladder. When he reached the top Kev gave a little knock, just in case mum or dad were home. The likelihood of which would have been pretty slim as the parents generally sleep away from the box during the day.
Kev carefully put his hand in and gently, one after the other, cradled not one, not two but three chubby little tawny owl chicks into his bird bag. Once back on the ground, Kev and Mike completed their duties by placing the small ring around one leg of each chick – all of which was a very calm affair for the chicks indeed.
These chicks, although all looking healthy were three different sizes. Kev explained this was because an owl will lay each of its eggs two or three days apart. This ensures that if there’s not enough food for all the chicks, at least the strongest will survive.
“That’s nature’s cruel but effective survival tactics” Kev said.
Luckily, Sherwood Forest is full of tasty treats to keep all three chicks well fed and looking at these siblings, it was clear they had good parents working hard to maintain healthy appetites.
After a very brief outing, the chicks were returned to their box via Kev’s steady hand.
These chicks will spend the next couple of weeks in their box, growing and stretching their wings, before they begin finding their way onto the nearby branches. They’ll stay dependent on their parents for about another five months, then who knows where they’ll go? But with the special work done today, it’s hoped we’ll be able to track their movements and learn more about their behaviour.
If I were them, I’d certainly stay at Sherwood Forest!”
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